April 28, 2009





Saturday, April 25, 2009

Waist bead among the Yoruba
By Alloysius Nduka Duru

THE usage of beads especially waist bead in Nigeria is wide spread across the various nationalities that make up the nation. There are similarities and peculiarities in their usage.
However, the Yorubas developed the most varying and peculiar uses for the waist beads. The Yorubas have developed a culture of bead usage that cuts across both material and spiritual aspects of the life of the people. In addition, they have also the capacity to produce the beads for varying purposes ranging from royalty, body adornment, deification and decoration.

The Yorubas are found in the South Western geo-political delineation of present day Nigeria. They are a vibrant and social people that accentuate their ways of life in their day-to-day activities.

Beads are usually small round piece of glass, wood, metal or nut, pierced for stringing. They are either used for adornment such as the waist, neck or ankle beads or as decorative ornament in art works or even for royalty purposes.

The art of beading is serial in process and serrated in composition. It has a step by step or one by one approach in stringing when traded together, beads stands for unity, togetherness and solidarity.

Beads of the waist is said to posses the power to attract and evoke deep emotional responses, they are a sign of success and affluence as well as spiritual well being.

The Origin of the Nigerian beads is still speculative due to its fragility portability and popularity.

Beads have been traded and used since time immemorial. However, the earliest known African beads is traced to Libya and Sudan. In Nigeria the Nok terracottes and Igbo Ukwu arts display some element of the usage of beads in those societies as early as 500BC, however there is no concrete statement of origin to the beads.

A common usage of the item is for adornment especially on the waist. There is however varying purpose for which people adorn the waist beads.

The common users of the waist beads are mostly the women folk, only in exceptional theatrical perform as will a man adorn a waist bead to symbolize feminism. The waist bead is synonymous with feminism.

The Yorubas have esteemed usage attached to the waist beads. They refer to the waist bead as Ileke, “Lagidigba” the term lagidigba means something big, thick or massive. The Lagidigba is made of palm nut shells string together, while the bebe is made of glass.

The Yorubas have a belief that the waist beads posses some erotic appeal, they have the power to provoke desire or deep emotional response on the opposite sex.

Waist beads in Yoruba are also used for birth control, the beads are laced with charms and worn by the women to prevent conception.

Beads are a precious ornaments to the Yorubas, hence when adorned by a women, accentuates her feminism or beauty. Beads also helps to portray the chastity of a maiden or women sensuality. Parent show their love for their girl child through gifts of waist beads that are colourful and expensive.

The lagidigba or palm nut shell beads is used for fecundity purposes. The nuts signify multiple births as they are in clusters, thus one can infer the high incidence of multiple births in Yoruba land to the usage of the lagidigba bead.

Brides seduce their spouses with the beads they adorn, some women are said to lace their beads with charm to make them irresistible to the male folks. The Yoruba’s can easily comment on a women’s moral standing in those days by interpretation of the movement of the waist bead adorned by a women. The way she moves her buttocks can depict her morals either seductive or reserve.

The Yorubas have a popular saying that “it is the beads that makes the buttocks to shake”.

Other users of the waist beads in Yoruba land are the Orisas or devotes of water deities and other priestesses, they adorn the waist beads for protection against spiritual attacks as well as part of their dress regalia.

The waist bead is also used to adorn the Ere-Ibeji figurine on the death of a twin, there is the belief that when treated well the spirit of the spirit of the dead twin will not harm the living twin and will return to the family to stay.

Waist beads are also adorned and laced with charms to ward away the Abiku spirit (mermaid Spirit) from a woman.

Because of the regard on the waist beads, some erotic songs have been composed and sang by the Yorubas based on its usages.

A Song Says

“She goes up

She goes down

Like buttocks beads.

Another song says;

Don’t flirt with me

Don’t flirt with me as you do with your husband.

Don’t wriggle your waist beads at me

Don’t lock the door on me and throw

Away the key.

Apart from the Yorubas, other groups in Nigeria also have similar usages of the waist beads in their culture the Ogonis in Rivers State refer to beads as Loo, its uses range from covering the private parts of a women to adornment as a sign of affluence. The beads is a measure of value to the Ogonis and are also worn by bride as part of her bridal rites. The Igbos called it Mgbaji, also for adornment and a sign of social status.

The Hausas refer to it as Jigida. To the Kalabaris, the waist bead has the potency of transforming an ugly woman into a beautiful maiden once it is worn. The Ibibios see it as Nkwa-Isin, they adorn it on a female baby to help give her a good waist line, as she grows, beads of her size are adorned on her.

Priestesses of deities also wear the beads that are always colourful as part of their regalia. They also use the waist beads laced with charm s for birth control. The maiden dances (Aban) also wear the beads doing dance to give a graceful hip movement when they dance.

Waist bead in today’s fashion is relegated, ladies have a preference for western costumes such as belts, chains, g-strings to the waist beads. The culture of waist bead is going down rapidly to extinction. Religion and other spiritual reasons have been adduced for the neglect, however it must be pointed out that waist bead usage as practiced in the past is an essential element of African body adornment that is harmless and meaningful a pride and precious item which should be encourage to day.

Nduka Duru discussed this topic with National Museum Study Group, Port Harcourt recently

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She is a pretty young girl with a slim graceful figure. Her elegant movement attracted the attention of passersby as she jiggled across to the other side of the road. Her waist beads were well revealed between her skimpy top and skirt. Mindful of the attention she had generated in the ever-busy Ketu Bus-Stop, Lagos State, Nigeria, she quickly climbed a commercial bike popularly called okada, trying in the process to pull her top and miniskirt together as they went further apart between the beads. A male petty trader beside her shouted, “Wetin you dey hide? Why you no go naked make we see your ‘thing’ well well?” Vividly embarrassed she tapped the bike rider and said, “Please get me out of this place.”

The above ‘drama’ and similar ones are common scenes today in Nigerian cities as well as towns particularly where higher institutions are located, particularly in southern parts of the country. This re-emergence of beads has added a new dimension into the craze for Western oriented fashion among our ladies particularly young ones. This trend is more pronounced among female students, particularly those in higher institutions. In addition to waist adornment, ladies also use beads as necklace, for hair tie, and handbag decoration. Some also wear beads on their wrists as hand bangles, as well as using them as earrings. The popularity of beads today is enhanced by the cost of acquiring them. A survey conducted by this reporter shows that beads averagely cost between one hundred and fifty naira to two thousand naira, depending on the quality, size, length and quality of string used in making them.

Madam Grace Benson, the proprietor of a fashion shop with inscription “MAMA ONOME BEAUTY PALACE” at Balogun Stret, Lagos Island, Lagos, was busy attending to her clients when this reporter visited her shop. When she was asked how ladies patronize her beads she simply said, “Fine, as you can see beads are in vogue now, so we are selling well well.” When asked to comment on why young ladies go for beads, she said, “Beads make ladies look fine, beads bring out the natural beauty in women. It is good, not just because of beauty, but a way of introducing our culture into the modern fashion.” On the moral implications of the manner in which some ladies expose the sensitive parts of their bodies to show-off beads, she refused to comment, saying, “I am busy, you can see my customers are waiting for me, I have to attend to them.”

However, 62-year-old community leader and retired civil servant, Mr. Idowu Bakare, described the trend as unfortunate, “This shows the level of moral decadence in our society. I can’t imagine seeing these small girls going about almost naked in the name of displaying beads worn around exclusive areas of their bodies. I blame the parents because I can tolerate such in my house,” he said. “It is a curse for any one to link our culture to this madness. Various cultures in Nigeria used beads to dignify womanhood. No time did our culture led women naked in the name of displaying beads,” he added.

“When I put on beads I look more beautiful”, a student of Lagos State University, Funke Ekerin, said. When asked the fun she drives from the beads on her waist she simply replied, “It is in vogue now, ladies fancy waist beads much, and even men who want to be truthful will tell you that they admire ladies with beads on their waists.”

A teenage girl who simply identified herself as Cynthia, said, “A correct Chic cannot wear beads without wearing it on her waist; that is the one that makes us more beautiful.” On the moral implications, she said, “Well, if any man feels that it is seductive he should remove his eyes from it; after all, it is my body, nobody will tell me what I should do with it.”

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