African trade beads have a long and sometimes ugly history.  They were used by Africans for adornment and as currency.  The ugly part comes with the use of "slave beads" as ships going to Africa were loaded with beads and other trade goods as ballast before exchanging these for human cargo on the outbound journeys.  Beads also played a fascinating and crucial role in the 19th century European exploration of Africa - see my historical biography on Richard Francis Burton and African Trade Beads (recommended read).

Mali wedding beads popular with the Fulani women of Mali for over 100 years

We also owe a debt to the wonderfully creative artisans from that continent for many inspirations and original beading stitches such as the Ndebele (herringbone) stitch.  Perhaps less known are the glass artisans who make glass beads using techniques which date back centuries.

The Bead Chest specializes in antique and vintage African trade beads as well as modern handmade ones, primarily from recycled glass. They work with developing communities throughout Africa to bring to the international market beautiful fair trade bead treasures. These are all sourced directly through year round travel to many African villages.  According to the manager, Adisa Kunte, they currently carry over 1,000 different types of beads, pendants and jewelry supplies from their African sources.

Early 1900's Czech made beads from Niger
Exploring this site is an education itself as we learn a great deal about the history of various types of beads that were made and/or worn by Africans. Their blog post explains the characteristics of authentic African trade beads compared to modern examples.  Did you know authentic trade beads are most often strung and not sold singly?

The irregularity of the beads is another indication of authenticity, besides faded colors and other signs of age.  This strand of vintage spindle whorl beads by the Drogon tribe in Mali was handmade with clay and individually inscribed.  Modern beads using machines would be completely symmetrical with even inscriptions.

The blue Sudanese Hebron Kano beads from the 1800's were made from the salts of the Dead Sea. They are another example of uneven bead sizes as each bead was shaped using a planed wooden stick. The color variation is also evident because of the manual dying process.  Iron and copper oxides from natural sources were used.  Hebron Kano beads are most often yellow.  The blue one below is rarer hence it's hefty price.

Blue Hebron Kano Beads

The loveliest collection in Bead Chest and one of the most affordable are the Krobo beads.  The people of Krobo Mountain in Ghana, West Africa, cleverly reproduced old Venetian trade bead styles.  They would crush recycled glass into powder, pour into molds and then heated to created drum shaped beads. They then decorated them using a paste made from colored glass powder and water and a thin wooden stalk. Firing a second time fixes the color.  The Bead Chest's blog post on how recycled glass beads were made has more details.

The African bone beads come from Ghana.  The bone beads are dyed using the same wax relief process as batik cloth.

African Batik Bone Beads from Ghana

Not all African trade beads were made in Africa. The colorful Mali Wedding beads shown at the top as well as the green vaseline and red snake beads were originally made in Bohemia/Czechoslovakia in the early 1900's and ended up in different parts of Africa.

Vaseline Beads from Ethiopia
Padre beads were another example of beads popular in Africa but were made elsewhere.  Despite the name, the beads were not made in Spain but in Southern China. They were exported to Africa  as well as to the Americas where Spanish missionaries and traders there also used them as a currency.

Old White Padre Beads from Ethiopia
If you'd like to win the $30 worth of African Trade beads from the Bead Chest to create your own awesome designs,  please make a comment below. Make sure you leave contact info if you do not have an online shop or blog.  

Subscribers need to click on the post title to come to my actual blog. Scroll down and enter your comment. Pick Name/URL. If you don't have a store or blog, leave the URL blank. 

This giveaway is international.

Extra entries if you become or are a blog subscriber or follower etc. If you also do shout outs about this giveaway, those will count as additional entries too! Please say so in the comments.

It ends in a week's time at 6 pm EST Monday, May 26,  2014. I will pick the winner randomly and announce the results as soon as possible after. So be sure to leave a contact email if you don't have an online link or make sure you come back and check! Otherwise I will redraw in a week. Good luck!

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Original Post by THE BEADING GEM
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