Waist beads are very common accessories in Ghana. If you are a lady you may have worn them a few times and if you are a guy you may have seen them around family members or your female significant other .
Waist beads are usually small, colourful pieces of pierced glass, wood or plastic strung together to serve as adornment for the waist. Since time immemorial, several tribes in Ghana notably Ewes, Krobos, Ga-Adangbes and Ashantis have used waist beads to shape children and women and also used these beads as accessories. For some tribes, waist beads are worn for both male and female children but the male child removes his beads when he is 12 to 36 months while the female continues to wear it through to adulthood. Krobos and Ga-adangbes especially associate with this kind of tradition.
While tradition remains the primary reason for ladies who wear waist beads in the 21st century, some people have quite interesting and unusual motivations for keeping this custom alive in modern day Ghana. I hosted a series of interviews with Ghanaian women of all ages, to learn more about this trend and the results may just shock you.
OLD WOMEN (over 50years)
Not surprisingly, women within this age group motives are definitely traditional. Aunty Marvel, a 53 year old Ewe woman, explained that waist beads give shape to children and also serves as an accessory. She added that waist beads are used to shape both the waist and calf of the kids. “As the babies grow, the beads press in on the flesh and give the desired shape.”
MIDDLE AGE WOMEN(30-49)
Women of this age wear waist beads to attract the opposite sex. Akosua 36, recalled that when she was in high school several years ago, the headmistress banned waist beads because the girls would attract the men in the school as well as husbands of the teachers. To her, men cannot get enough of a woman who wears waist beads especially when it shows through their school uniforms and this caused the headmistress and female teachers to fear for their marriages.
Jessica 32, says that her boyfriend cannot get his hands off her waist beads and he might probably be the only reason why she still wears the beads. “there will be war the day I remove it…hmm” she said.
YOUNGER WOMEN (18-29):
This age group had more varied reasons for wearing waist beads. Korkor 24 wore them for cultural reasons. She said she grew up knowing that Ga-Adangbes and waist beads were inseparable. She admitted that she didn’t know the reason behind this “rule” but is not curious enough to find out. A few ladies claimed that waist beads give them a nice shape and that is why they wear it (think of it as a natural waist trainer if you will) while a few think it is just an accessory for the waist. One lady also said she does not like waist beads but just like Jessica, she only wears it to please her boyfriend but removes them when she is not with him. Looks like waist beads war is not a joke after all. One lady had a rather weird reason for wearing waist beads. “I just like the sparkles of the crystal beads when I am in the dark” was Ama Safowaa’s response when I enquired about why she wears beads.
Whatever your reasons for wearing waist beads, they are certainly a symbol of our proud Ghanaian heritage, history and culture and I hope we millennials pass down this powerful emblem and its significance to future generations.