TERA Gallery - African Art and Antiquities

"Altering The Way You View The World Of Art"

Beadwork is one of the oldest of the traditional arts practiced by the peoples of Africa.  
The Yoruba, Bantu,  Ndebele, Massai, Xhosa, and Zulu peoples are well known for
their extensive use of beads on everything from clothing to household items.  

It is reported that by the year 1000 A.D. merchants from Arabia, India, and China sailed
across the Indian Ocean to the East Coast of Africa bringing, among other things,
beads for trade.  From the late 14th century to the early 20th century, glass "trade
beads" were imported from Venice, Holland, and Czechoslovakia, although the
Venetians dominated the production,  and were used throughout Africa in  exchanged
for human cargo as well as ivory, gold and other goods desired in Europe and around
world.  They have found in the United States and Canada, and throughout Latin
America.  The production of Trade beads, also know as "Slave beads," became so
popular that literally tons of these beads were used for this purpose (hence the name).

The success of beads as a form of currency can largely be attributed to the high
intrinsic value beads have in many African societies.  Decorative items represent
stored wealth, and social status could be easily determined by the quality, quantity
and style of jewellery worn. This created a high demand for trade/slave beads in Africa.