Written by Mutala Abubakar and edited by Obolobo
“When they are on your waist, they shape your body by keeping the waist small, so the hips are more accentuated,” explained Linda, a 27 year old bead seller. The Coca-Cola bottle exemplifies the Ghanaian feminine ideal of beauty: a minimum of a B-cup, a flat belly, and “child-rearing” hips.
Mutala visited the Accra Art Centre located adjacent to the Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Park on Accra “High Street” (28th February Road). The Accra Art Centre contains hundreds of vendors offering beads, drums, kente cloth, paintings, animal wood carvings, ladies bags, backpacks, and batik shirts. It attracts a largely white crowd who can afford to pay the “expensive” prices.
“To show our identity as Ghanaians, we women put on waist beads,” Linda said. In fact, many women in West Africa wear waist beads.
From a young age, girls wear thin beads around their waists. In adulthood, Ghanaian women continue wearing them.
“I feel naked without my waist beads,” said Victoria, a passerby. Many said that the beads make them feel feminine.
Women wear beads of given length around their waists. Ghanaians believe that by wearing these waist beads fat will not go to the belly; instead fat will go to the hips, butt, and legs. Though I believe this idea contradicts my notion that fat cannot be guided in its distribution throughout the body, I also cannot explain why many Ghanaian women have this Coca-Cola bottle bodies while many non-Ghanaian women do not.
Linda added that waist beads were traditionally worn to differentiate men from women. Traditionally, men and women both tied cloth either around their waists and/or chests. Women wore beads around their waists and as necklaces while men had bracelets. Sixty years ago, Mutala pointed out Kwame Nkrumah the founder of Ghana, sometimes also tied cloth. Prior to the modern day, women did not have access to hair from Brazil nor India; men and women had similar hairstyles.
Linda also added that gay men also buy waist beads from her and put them on to differentiate between the male and the female roles played in a homosexual relationship.
Other women wear waist beads to help with weight control. If a lady is gaining weight, then the beads will fit tighter. Thus, she will know that perhaps it’s time to lay off the banku and kenkey.
Waist Beads and Sex
“The sound of the beads during sex urges my guy on,” explained Patricia Naa, a university student Mutala met while buying visiting the Accra Arts Centre. She said she didn’t like waist beads but had wear them to satisfy her boyfriend, who loves to see the beads on her. Nonetheless, women’s waist beads are said to possess the power to attract and evoke deep sexual feelings for men.
“I like it on my wife and sometimes get irritated when she takes them off. It’s sexy,” chimed Alex Ansah, a passerby, who said that waist beads make the ladies’ waists attractive. He offered that whenever he glimpsed waist beads on a woman, it awakened his sexual desires.
Aunty Monica, another beads seller, advised young ladies especially the married ones to continue wearing waist beads as it “charms” men to remain faithful. According to her, if a woman stops wearing her beads, the husband might be tempted to cheat with another woman who puts them on.”
Auntie Monica described how waist beads were powerful weapons in fighting rapists. Yeah, rapists. Any woman wearing waist beads who is confronted by a rapist should just look for a hard ground surface and tear the beads. The clattering of the beads on the hard ground will magically make the man lose erection immediately.
In addition to thwarting rapists, waist beads could be used for birth control. According to another bead seller, Nana Ama, described how the Yoruba, a large tribe in Nigeria, used waist beads for birth control. The beads are laced with charms and and are worn by the women to prevent unwanted pregnancy.
Lastly, Nana Ama offered that “waist beads are the best cure for convulsion [in] children.” She explained that when a child suffered convulsions in the past, all that was needed was to place the child on the bare floor in a corner of a room. “Any woman with beads on her waist would gently remove them and place them on the sick child. Within five minutes, the child would be cured.”
Conversations with numerous Ghanaians confirm that waist beads are a visual aphrodisiac. They seem to rouse desires that stem from a time when beads were worn often and in the open. While claims regarding birth control, rape prevention, and children’s convulsions seem dubious, I will withhold judgement because I do not purport to know enough about local magic.
For more information on beads, check out Evelyn Simak’s African Beads: Jewels of a Continent. If you would like to observe how glass beads are made, I suggest you visit the Ghana Craft workshop in Odumase Krobo.