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Vintage African Jewelry

African jewelry is some of the oldest in the world; pieces believed to be at least 70,000 years old have been unearthed in the Blombos Cave in South Africa. While these original pieces were probably mollusk shells strung into a necklace, there have been many materials like bone and clay used to make vintage African jewelry. Jewelry played many important roles in Africa.

What are some materials used in vintage African jewelry?

Many different types of materials were used in traditional African jewelry including:

  • Bone: Craftspeople often carved bone into intricate designs.
  • Clay: Red and white clay were both used to make a variety of jewelry.
  • Animal teeth: Mammals, reptiles, and marine animals have all been used to make jewelry.
  • Metals: Copper, iron, bronze, and silver were choices used for vintage jewelry across the continent with many gold pieces being produced in West Africa.
  • Plant materials: Rushes, leaves, straw, and rushes have all been used.
  • Stones and gemstones: Sandstone was often used in Kenya while gemstones were often used elsewhere.
  • Animal horn: The availability of animal horn made it an option for jewelry makers.
  • Wood: Craftspeople often carve necklaces, bracelets, and earrings. Alternatively, they may have painted the wood.
  • Feathers: Peacocks, cranes, flamingo and ostrich feathers are also used.
Do colors mean certain things in African vintage jewelry?

While some jewelry makers made pieces because they were pretty, others chose color schemes to represent a meaning like:

  • Red: Celebrations and rites of passage
  • Black: Wisdom and age
  • Yellow: High rank or fertility
  • Gold: Long life
  • Blue: Energy and sustenance
  • Green: Nourishment and production
  • Orange: Hospitality and generosity
  • White: Purity and health
  • Black: Unity and harmony
What are some traditional uses of beads in Africa?

While many people wore African earrings, African necklaces, African bracelets, and African pendants because they were beautiful, others chose to wear a particular choice for a specific purpose. These pieces were often strung together to make a necklace. Some types include:

  • Prayer beads: Many people used prayer beaded necklaces to help them with a spiritual weakness. Traditional healers often wore amulets to help identify them.
  • Anti-tension devices: Beaded necklaces were often worn to remind a person of a goal they were trying to achieve or as a technique to help someone worry less.
  • Currency: Aggri beads were often exchanged as money.
  • Medicine: Aggri, dzi, echinacea, and amber choices were often used to ward off evil spirits believed to make one sick.
  • Seduction: Waist beads were often worn to seduce a member of the opposite sex.
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