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Waist beads are a type of jewelry worn around the waist or hip area. Originating in Africa, they are traditionally worn by women as a symbol of waist size, beauty, sexuality, femininity, fertility, well-being, and maturity.
Commonly made of glass, metal, crystals, gemstones, charms, wooden beads, or plastic beads, they are typically strung on cotton thread, twine, wire, clear cord, or elastic cord. The colors and materials used may hold symbolic, cultural, or personal significance for the wearer.
The culture or beliefs of the wearer determine when the beads are worn or taken off. Waist beads can also be used for health tracking, such as weight loss. More modern uses of waist beads are related to fashion.
Waist beads actually originated in ancient Egypt, where they were known as girdles. Egyptians wore them around their waist or lower abdomen. Girdles were symbols of status and were made of chains, wire, thread, and shells, and often featured multiple colors Today, people from many African cultures wear waist beads, including Ghanaians, Senegalese, Yorubas, Igbos, Ewes, Ashantis, Krobos, and Ga-Adangbes. Each culture has its own reasons for wearing waist beads. In many African cultures, waist beads are commonly given to young women around the time they go through puberty.
 In Ghanaian culture, women begin to wear waist beads as they age and on orders from their mothers. Beads are a part of the rite of passage during puberty, which is associated with fertility and marriage. This symbolizes maturity and the beginning of womanhood. The initiation ceremony held for a young woman is called Dipo, during which beads are worn on the neck, ankles, and waist. Waist beads are often worn to represent luck and are commonly made of seeds, seashells, glass pieces, teeth, ivory, and stones. They are often hand-painted. The size of the waist beads is said to signify a woman's level of sexual maturity. In some traditions, waist beads are considered intimate and personal and are not supposed to be seen by anyone except the persons significant other.  Today, waist beads are also used as a fashion statement
 The Yoruba people refer to waist beads as Ileke, ibebe idi, Jigida, and Lagidigba. They are both a piece of jewelry and a part of their spirituality. Beads are often made from glass, nuts, wood, or metal and come in varying sizes and colors. In Yoruba culture, waist beads are a part of the rite of passage for young women. As a young woman outgrows her beads, she receives newer ones, which are worn as symbols of confidence, femininity, fertility, and well-being. Waist beads are worn for posture, beauty, weight tracking, protection, growth, sexual desire, and other reasons. In addition, waist beads can represent royalty and social standing, depending on the price and quality of the beads. Women of royalty usually wear more expensive and rare beads to distinguish themselves from others.
The use of waist beads in Igbo culture dates back to 500 BC and has been worn by both men and women across all social classes. Waist beads, known as Mgbájí in Igbo language, are commonly used during festivities and traditional ceremonies, and are popular among young girls and married women. They are usually made with materials such as copper, coral, beads, and stones, and held together with string or wire. More than one string is usually worn at a time. Although nowadays waist beads are mostly worn only for traditional Igbo ceremonies such as Igba nkwu (traditional marriage), in the past, no Igbo maiden ever joked with her waist beads, and it is still possible to find these Igbo waist beads in the homes of some elderly Igbo women. Traditionally, Mgbájí is one of the essential items a groom must present to his bride, as the bride's wedding attire is incomplete without them. Additionally, the jiggling beads were pleasing to watch as the bride danced towards her new husband. Waist beads in Igbo culture symbolize wealth, fertility, and femininity.
The Hausa ethnic group the largest tribe in present-day Nigeria. The use of beads on different parts of the body by men, women, the young and the old dates back to hundreds of decades. The Hausa are very aesthetic-minded and tend to wear beads around the ankles, necks, wrists, waist, etc. Waist beads among the Hausa are referred to as Jigida. It is common to see newborn females with beads around their waist. Typical Hausa beads are usually tinier than most, and are made of plastic, wood, bones, cowries and shells. In Hausa culture, there are claims that beads can be used to ward off evil, preserving virginity, and protecting girls from getting raped. They are also worn for adornment, enhancing femininity and sensuality. “Hausa girls are naturally beautiful and according to their perception of beauty, a slim waist is a very important measure for looking good. Therefore, adorning a female baby with waist beads is believed to help accentuate her waist and retain the slim feature.” They are allegedly worn by maidens to indicate that they are ripe and ready for marriage. This refers to the fact that Hausa girls tend to marry early, so their mothers may adorn a 12-year-old in beads to indicate that a child is mature and ready to marry a suitor.
 Traditionally, when making waist beads, the first step is to define the purpose. The purpose of the beads helps to determine the materials, colors, and sizes of the beads. Next, waist or hip measurements are taken, and the string is cut to size accordingly. Before adding the beads, a clasp is added to the end of the string so that the beads can be easily put on. On the opposite end of the string, chain loops are added to connect the clasp. Then, bead colors and materials are chosen, and the designer can select the pattern that the beads will follow and add them to the string. Lastly, the waist beads are sealed either with a clamp, a tight knot, a crimp lock, or may be burned together firmly. Then, the waist beads are ready for wearing.
Due to their recent popularity, many small businesses and shops now sell waist beads.
The purpose and meaning of waist beads are individual to the wearer, but may represent personal beliefs or cultural heritage, often expressed through the choice of colors and materials. In many cultures, the purpose of waist beads is to signify the beginning of womanhood and to represent fertility. Waist beads are often given to a young woman by her mother to mark her transition into womanhood and her sexuality. Each culture's beliefs determine whether the beads are only intended to be seen by the woman's husband or not. In some cultures, there is a belief that waist beads have a sexual aspect to them and can help attract a partner. They are also believed to help develop a woman's curves and slim her waist because they do not stretch.
- Fashion statement: many people today wear waist beads as a piece of body jewelry or an accessory.
- Weight control: others use the waist bead to measure their waist size and over time the band will fall or roll up due to weight loss or weight gain.
- Culture: there are a variety of meanings for waist beads in different cultures such as maturity and sexual attraction. Cultures that traditionally utilize waist beads include the Egyptian culture, Ghana, Yoruba, Ewe, Ashanti, Krobo, Ga-Adangbe, and others.
- Spirituality: those who are practicing the awareness of the spirit use the waist beads for personal performances.
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