Waist beads are a traditional African accessory made up of small glass beads on a string, that is tied around one's waist or hips. They have been worn for numerous purposes by women in West African countries such as Ghana, Nigeria and Senegal; however in recent years waistbeads have seen increased popularity in the West, specifically throughout the US.
In Ghana, waist beads are a symbol of maturity. At their naming ceremonies, babies are traditionally decorated in waistbeads, however only girls will continue to wear them as they grow older. Additionally, mothers tie waist beads around their daughters after their first menstruation as a rite of passage into womanhood. The beads a girl wears during her maturing stages in life will differ from those she wears as a child, as outgrowing them and changing their color are also a mark of transition to a new phase in life.
Waist beads also symbolize intimacy. They are worn in intimate settings to enhance sensuality. As a result, they are sometimes worn under clothing, as a special set of lingerie so that only the wearer and her chosen partners may see them.
In addition to intimacy, the traditional beads also represent fertility. In Ashanti and Krobo culture, larger beads are added to the set once the wearer is fertile, in order to alert potential suitors. Additionally, special sets of waist beads are made to cater for pregnant women, as they are believed to offer protection for both the mother and the growing baby.
While in Ghana they are worn to symbolize maturity, intimacy and fertility; waist beads are also used by the diaspora to connect with their roots. Waist beads have unmistakeable African origins, hence as many Black and Brown women do not have direct contact with their ancestors, the wearing of waist beads is a means for them to reclaim their heritage and re-develop a connection with their origins. They serve as a reminder that you can always carry a small part of home with you, no matter how far away.