In Namibia, Waistbeads Are More Than Ornaments

BY CLEMENCE TASHAYAMusicians_and_dancers_on_fresco_at_Tomb_of_Nebamun

EENHANA, Namibia — Waistbeads date back to ancient Egypt, where painting of dancers wearing the beads appear on tombs walls, according to a former educationist, historian and now a pensioner here in Ohangwena region.

The tradition has since spread through several continents and centuries to include women in various cultures, including Namibia. According to Meme Paulina Omaholo, this cultural practice is also in the United States of America. Waistbeads have a number of different purposes and perhaps even more different styles. She says waistbeads can be very simple or incredibly elaborate. Beads can be of any size and material, including glass stone, clay and sandalwood or other material. Some African women add fragrant oil to their beads, Omaholo notes, while mostly the Namibian Oshiwambo women add gems and crystal to add healing properties.

Most Oshiwambo cultures wear at least two or more strands of waist beads, although an even number of strands brings bad luck in some other cultures in Namibian regions such as the Damara/Nama, Silozi and Tswana tribes. African women have traditionally worn waistbeads beneath their clothing, yet other cultures proudly display the beads over their clothes or on bare midriffs.

Waistbeads can serve as a symbol of femininity. The beads were an integral part of all African women initiation lodges and ceremonies in the old dynasties, according to the Oshiwambo tradition and culture. Young females began to wearbeads when they started to menstruate, marking their passage from girlhood to womanhood. “The beads may have also served as a kind of belt onto which the ‘monthly cloth’ was attached,” Omaholo adds.

In other areas, waistbeads are gifts to young women about to marry, according to Omaholo. “Women of other regions in Africa wear the beads while pregnant or use the beads in foreplay to entice their husbands as in the Zambezi region here in Namibia and as well as in Malawi, Zambia and other parts of Angola and Zimbabwe. Others start to wear the beads as young girls after receiving a set as a baby gift.

African folklore gives waist beads special powers, Lungowe Simataa from the Zambezi region says. The beads, worn to define the waist, help hold their shape. They also serve to help women hold onto their mate. Protection is another function of the beads, as they encircle the body and close off the circuits of energy. “Wearers are thus protected from obsessive thoughts, negative spirits and even vampires,” Simataa adds.

Ornamentation is a major role for waistbeads. In the Zambezi region and other cultures in West Africa, the beads served to transform women into “walking charms,” she says. “Since beads were considered money all over Africa, waistbeads were both ornamentation as well as dowry in matriarchal societies. A husband-to-be would give his bride to be a set of waistbeads accompanied by beads for her neck, arms, wrists and ankles.

Throughout parts of the world, Simataa notes, waist beads were worn for aesthetics, largely considered an item of beauty.

Waistbeads have a long history in Africa and they have also filtered into other cultures. Belly dancers in Far Eastern cultures have embraced the beads as have women of Islamic cultures. They prominently display the beads during their dances, while some wear them beneath their clothes.

Reprinted from:

Custom Waistbeads By Wrap And Soul

Between festivals and online sales, at times I get so busy I run low on stock at the Wrap and Soul shop at So I was thrilled to discover that instead of becoming disappointed, many of my customers turned to my Custom Waistbeads service, giving me the opportunity to co-design with them and creating special beads that meet their specific needs.
If you would like certain gemstones or symbols on your waistbeads, for aesthetic or spiritual reasons, but find that what you desire is not available at the Wrap and Soul shop, I will work with you to make it happen. In fact, I will be honored.
For me, making this special jewelry is a calling that I take very seriously. In our ancestral villages and towns, there were women who strung waistbeads for the local girls for each milestone in their lives. They all  knew each other, and the women knew what colors. patterns and beads would be appropriate for each girl’s age, status and disposition.
Our “village” today is a lot larger, but if you give me the information, you can still get those special hand-selected touches.  All Wrap and Soul waistbeads are one-of-a-kind, so with each piece you are get a unique work of  functional art, as well as history and culture.  As you view the selection on the site, notice the waistbeads that catch your eye, the set you keep staring at, and going back to. That’s the one for you. For whatever reason, you need the energy of those crystals. It works every time.
However, if you have something specific in mind, and decide you want Wrap and Soul custom beads, here are the steps for c0-designing a set with me.
First, go the the left side menu of the Wrap and Soul website. Under “Shop Info” you’ll see the number of sales.  The number changes all the time: Today it says “247 Sales.” Click that link, and all of my previously sold waistbeads will be displayed.  Right now, that’s 11 pages of designs.
Scroll through the sold waistbeads to get an idea of the crystals and symbols in my inventory. If you see a set you like, click it for a larger view and to get my description of the properties of the crystals. Note, there are five photographs for each item. Click those on too!
From that vast selection, you can decide which crystals and symbols you would like on your custom waistbeads. Email your ideas to me and I’ll give you feedback. We will co-design! I will make suggestions on your color selection, symbols etc.
About cost: Generally, for a custom design that’s a spin on one of my previously sold creations, I charge only $5 more. about $30, plus shipping. That would be for the standard length of up to 43 inches, with all crystals and symbols in stock.
If you are requesting a crystal that I don’t normally use or that is out of stock, I will order it for you. However, if it is expensive I may pass the cost on to you or suggest  a less expensive version with the same properties/color. The same goes for symbols that are not in my inventory. But I’m always open to suggestions and I’ll work with you.
If you need custom waistbeads that are longer than 43 inches, I will create that also, adding another $5 more to the cost.
I do require a deposit of 50 percent of the cost before I start the project. When the waistbeads are completed, I post photos of them in my shop, reserved under your first name so you can take a look at them before final payment.reservedlisting
After you okay them, you make the final payment and I ship them out to you.  You receive them, open the package and fall in love!!