The Soul Sistahs Guide To Waistbead Culture: What women of color need to know about the Ancestral African Sacred Feminine tradition of making and wearing Waistbeads
Women of Color are reclaiming and embracing the Indigenous African Sacred Feminine Wisdom of our Ancestors
Nowadays, wearing Waistbeads and having waistbead making parties is on the rise. More and more, women of color are finding themselves interested in and compelled to indulge in this ancient custom. This piece is for the many Sistahs who ask me about Waistbeads. Now you can have all the information I have on it in one place. It’s so Empowering for women of color to have things that are for us by us. Wearing Waistbeads for Women of Color in the Diaspora is not only an adaptation of personal style but an act of rebellion against the Western culture of deprecating our health, rejection of Westernized Standards of Beauty and an Embracing and reclaiming of our Ancestral wisdom and Divine Femininity.
Wearing Waistbeads is Ancient and customary on the continent Africa
Not all tribes practice the same ideology around wearing Waistbeads. Tribes wear Waistbeads for various reasons and some at certain times only. It is said that wearing Waistbeads may even date back to Ancient Kemet (Egypt)
Some traditions around wearing Waistbeads include:
1.) Signify the birth of a girl child.
2.) PROTECTION~ To protect the spirit of the child during pregnancy
3.) Puberty Rites, the onset of menses.
4.) Marital Rites~ Each elder Woman that has given birth, takes a bead off of a strand she has worn for years and they create a strand for the bride to be. This brings her fertility, blessings and protection.
I learned of a Sacred Beading practice that is traditional in our Native ‘American’ culture. It’s practiced inside of a special ceremony for Mothers to be called a Birth Blessingway. I was exposed to this ritual by a friend and local Midwife of Color, Nilajah Brown. In this Beading ceremony, each person presents the Mother to be with a bead and an accompanying virtue that bead represents. Then a strand is created and she wears it to Empower and Uplift her during childbirth. It is clear that we brought our traditions from the Motherland with us to what is now called the Americas long, long ago.
5.) MEDICINE~ In case a woman’s health was poor, she might wear Waistbeads that have been imbued with prayers and herbal medicines.
6.) FERTILITY~ to promote fertility and correct womb disease
7.) AWAKENING ~ to heighten intuition, self realization and connection to the higher/ inner self, the goddess within.
8.) ADORNMENT & BEAUTY
9.)SEXUALITY~ worn to increase sexual energy
10.) STRENGTH~ worn around the hips which is the center of gravity in our bodies
11.) SUPPORT~ allows her to support her neutral spine, promotes good posture
12.) ENHANCED MOVEMENT ~ heavier beads are worn around the waist and hips to enhance movement during dance
13.) WAIST TRAINING ~ how the fit of her Waistbeads change let’s a woman know wear she is in terms of her figure and fitness. It was thought that wearing the strands from the time one was a baby would keep the figure in tact through awareness of the body.
14.) MENSTRAL~ worn simply to tuck the menstral cloth in, to keep it secure.
15.) VIRGINITY or CHASTENESS~
16.) STATUS/ AFFLUENCE~
Installing Waistbeads on my baby Niece
Magickal Healing Properties
Waistbeads are imbued with magickal Healing properties either from prayers or actual medical herbs and oils rubbed on them. Some can afford to used heavy intricate trade beads, while others may adorn with cowrie shells which actually were used as currency at a time. Also the particular colors used give certain energy.
As for us in the diaspora, we are using all kinds of stones and crystals in our Waistbeads as we have access to a plethora of materials from all around the world. The strands we make tend to be very colorful and intricate.
Various names for Waistbeads
Mgathe’ ~ Kenya
Jigeda, Bebedi, Mgbaji~ Nigeria
Girl- Giri, Yomba, Ileki Idi, BinBin etc ~ other tribes throughout the Africa
Womb Beads~ This is the term I use in my business as my Work is Yoni~Womb centric, though I often use “Waistbeads” because that’s what people are most familiar with
Men wear Waistbeads too
In Kenya, in the Masai and Kikuyu tribes, boys ages 11-13 wear Waistbeads commemorating their Rites of Puberty. In some tribes the Men are not circumcised until later in life and they wear Waistbeads during and around their ceremony.
In Zambia, the Chief/ King wears a bulky waistbead belt during the rainy season
ceremony when the village floods.
In Namibia and Benin men wear Waistbeads as well.
On this side of the Diaspora
I was first exposed to Waistbeads some time around 2008 although I cannot remember the exact moment. I do remember seeing a sister named Serwa who was making beautiful strands of waist beads. I make it a part of my practice to pay homage to those who went before me, so I pay homage to her ✨🙏🏾✨...I soon made myself a strand and I incorporated gems and semiprecious stones and it was really magickal. Shortly thereafter I’m Egan making and selling custom strands. I had my first waistbead making Party for my birthday in 2010 at my studio in Fells Point.
We really need this Medicine
Even if it’s only subconsciously that we are aware, the fact is that we really need this medicine. As women of color, our Wombs are the ones constantly under attack, our fertility rights are being hijacked, we are being sold hysterectomies and unnecessary c-sections, wholesale. Chemicals are being put in hair products that give us ovarian cancer just to name a few of the intentional attacks we are under. As a facilitator of the reclamation of our Indigenous Wise Ways, it is my duty and devotion to play my part to restore the wisdom that has been stolen and stripped from us. We are being restored to our rightful glory...to the Divine Feminine Goddesses we are.
(Waist) Beading Rituals: The Sacred Transfer of Ase’
Let’s add this Sacredness back into our lives. As with the women in Kenya, and how they women of the village pass on beads from their fertile wombs to the womb of the bride to be, let us create our strands and have in mind that we will pass beads onto girls and women in our families and villages. Maybe not only during Marriage Rites but other times as well. We really have to be clean in heart, mind and spirit to bless someone with something that has been on our person for years. This challenges us to live our Iwa Pele and practice gentle character and integrity.
I will be sourcing some larger beads so that we can make these strands that we will wear with the intention of one day sharing a bead here or there. ✨💛✨
Update: Wednesday June 5, 2019, 3:13 am
Waistbeading as Family/ Art Therapy
Healing Ancestral Trauma/ Bringing Presence
I am seeing that Waistbeading gatherings will be very therapeutic for especially my female family members. Growing up, my family would dread the fact that during so called holiday gatherings, I wanted to talk about what was really going on with us all. They saw my desire to talk about our patterns, family history and ailments as burdensome and so I learned to mostly just keep it light at those times, with a few sprinkled moments of depth here and there because I can’t just go out like that! 😂 Anyway, obviously there are tremendous ills in my family of all kinds and not acknowledging them has definitely contributed to their unchecked perpetuation. There is/ has been rampant Shame, leading to rampant Alcoholism and Domestic Violence, Rape and Molestation just to name a few and sadly and unfortunately this is commonplace in the families of most people of color that I know. It’s like some of my relatives are in such pain that they can’t bear to talk about anything that might touch on it. I’m proposing that we connect over waistbeading. The aforementioned ritual of passing on beads to other family members can be infused into the Waistbeading ‘party.’
As people of color, in the diaspora, it is of utmost import that we find ways to deeply connect with our own selves and each other void of forced and/ or willfully (or passively) accepted Westernized customs, which tend to dishonor our Indigenous legacies and destroy our physical vitality.
I’ll let you all know how it goes 😉 If you feel inspired to, please send me some positive energy ✨🙏🏾✨
Update: Saturday, November 9th
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.
Waitbeads and Body Positivity
“I started wearing Waistbeads almost 3 years ago, and at that time I didn’t see many thick women featured in Waistbeads. I’d I did, I couldn’t relate to them because they usually had flat tummies or no stretch marks or rolls. So I began making them for myself, and then for a few of my friends. One day I was trying on an outfit in Lane Bryant and the young lady who was helping me saw my Waistbeads and literally almost broke onto tears, asking where I had gotten mine from. She had been wanting some for a while but couldn’t find any that came in her size or the price would be more expensive. I told her that I would make her some. When o delivered her beads to her she was so happy. Asked me for a card. I ain’t heave one because it was truly just a hobby and something I
loved doing. Anyway, I heard spirit whisper to me that I needed to be a little more official, so later that year in December 2016 I opened my Etsy Shop. And the rest is history in the making 🌻”~ Iya Naomi of Oshun Marketplace on Etsy
Waistbeads among the Yorubas
Beads of the waist are believed to posses the power to attract and evoke deep emotional responses; they are a sign of success and affluence as well as spiritual well being.
The Yorubas have a belief that the waist beads posses some erotic appeal; they have the power to provoke desire or deep emotional response on the opposite sex.
Waist beads are also used by the Yoruba for birth control; the beads are laced with charms and worn by the women to prevent conception.
From waistbeads woman.com
White Women and Waistbead Wearing
My response to Sara, a white woman who emailed me to ask if it was appropriate for her to wear Waistbeads to aid in her weight loss journey. I appreciate her for being conscientious. Added on 3/9/2021
"I would say that the intention and respect is important. Purchasing them from women of color who are stringing them with intention and informed of the tradition's sacredness would be of value as well. Sacred Womb Beads are an African Divine Feminine tradition and practice and as long as you "credit" them that way in your speaking and point other white women toward their history and sacredness and toward acquiring them from women of color ( and not trying to capitalize on this tradition in any way), I would say that you would be being responsible as a (likely) descendant of colonialists and be respecting and honoring the tradition."
Care for your Waistbeads
It’s important that you keep your beads energetically clean. If you have been sad or angry in them, then take them off and cleanse them. You can take them to a river or smudge them with Sage or douse them in Florida Water etc. The point is to be aware which points to another benefit of wearing Waistbeads, Mindfulness.
Wearing Waistbeads promotes Mindfulness and encourage Presence
Get your Waistbeads
Consider Waistbeading Parties for Birthdays, Bridal Parties, Birth Blessingways (Ancient Indigenous Spiritual Ceremony) and Puberty Rites
You can also have your own Waistbead Party and get your ticket for FREE (a $50 value). It’s easy just invite at least 5 people and once they all register, your registration is FREE! Would you like to add waistbeading to your event? Graduation, Bridal, Birthday...ask me how ...Or you can just come to one of my quarterly Gatherings!
“I have been subtly and grossly enjoying my womb beads since the moment I laid eyes on them! Lol. I love catching glimpses of them in the mirror, I love how they feel sliding up and down my body and I'm even appreciating how they help me understand in such a profound way what foods are bloating me and causing me to gain weight after eating and how long it takes for that weight to subside! That's actually SO helpful to me right now, so BONUS!!!!!🥰👏🏼👏🏼”~ Iya Kenyatta OsunRemilekun @holistickeny 💛💛🧡💛💛
Kirigo~ Kenyan Native, Natural Hair Coach, Griot of African Culture, Yemoja Devotee
Waistbeads by Serwa
Nilajah Brown ~Midwife, Shopkeeper at Flourish, Fellow Waistbead Party Facilitator
The Iyami (the Mothers), Yeye Osun, Yeye Oya and Yeye Yemoja
Our African Ancestors
Our Sistahs and Brothers in/ from Africa who preserve the culture and share it with us. Much love and gratitude 💛