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CNN's Inside Africa did a spectacular video report on African beads, which discusses the returning trend of African glass beads in Ghana's youth. The video features a number of different kinds of Ghanian beads including African waist beads, recycled glass beads, and the highly popular Krobo beads.
Host #1 (Isha Sesay): Welcome back to Inside Africa. In Ghana, wearing beads and lots of them, has long marked a coming of age tradition, and today, young Ghanians are using the custom in a new way. Richard Louis saw the popularity of these beads first-hand when he visited Ghana earlier this year. Here is more of our conversation.
Host #2 (Richard Lui): We wanted to look at stories that were symbolic of what Ghana as a country was going through. Well beads symbolize a part of that, because beads are being sold from Ghana in international markets. This is symbolic of the culture and the economy of Ghana.
Host #1: And you have some?
Host #2: And I have some beads, so I brought some back for you. This one is interesting because this one is made from recycled Guiness beer bottles. Yeah, and so this is one model that you might wear on your wrist like this. And you always wear it on your right hand. This one is also recycled, but uses powder. This one is a necklace. This one right here, is multicolor and many different types of beads there. And this one is interesting, got a lot of different reactions. These are waist beads. They are seen as sexy by men, and women where them quite often. But its not like what you'll see in some western countries such as thongs that are shown prominently and are supposedly acceptable culturally. This is not to shown outside. But anyways this was a very popular piece and discussion point when I went outside into the streets of Ghana.
Narrator: This is what many Ghanians used to associate with beads: traditional coming of age ritual for girls. But not anymore.
Taari (University of Ghana Student): It's coming back into fashion. People can actually wear them on their necks and its part of their clothing and everything. It's no longer old fashion. It's coming back.
Narrator: And their fashion forward in more ways than one.
Masoom (University of Ghana Student): It's attractive. They are more African than when they wear the beads than usual. Especially when they wear it down their waist, it brings out the shape of their waist. It's really attractive.
Young people of Ghana are experiencing what's called "Sankofa." One merchant we bumped into at the market explains:
Ernestina Anafu (Bead Merchant): There's a culture called "Sankofa", go back and see what you left behind. There was a period when they [young people] shunned beads; they said it was archaic, it was no longer fashionable. Since this period of 'sankofa' people are going traditional again.
Taari (University of Ghana Student): It means so much to me. It's not just because of the beauty. They symbolize so much. Where I'm from, if you wear something like blue, it's purity. White is fertility. Something like gold is wealth. I know what they mean to me, so they are so precious to me.
Narrator: And precious to commerce historically. These were the king's currency, says an organizer for Ghana's first international bead festival.
E.B.T. Sikapa (Beads festival project officer): Beads were exchanged for slaves, beads were exchanged for alcoholic drinks, beads were exchanged for textiles.
Narrator: Of course today, you can't use them as cash, but you will have to dull out some cash to buy them. This is ten times more expensive than this, and that's because this could be as old as 100 years.
Ernestina Anafu (Bead Merchant): Yes, or more. That from old burial grounds, you know cemetaries.
Narrator: So this could have been on somebody's hand, buried, and somebody dug it up. Don't worry, you don't need to go to that kind of extreme to get some beads. Ghana produces plenty, with glass beads made from recycled materials now.
Kati Torda (Sun Trade Beads owner): Recycled materials, which is a big issue in Europe as I know being a Hungarian and I traveled there. Ghana can teach the world a thing or two about recycling.
Narrator: And Ghana wants the world to focus on buying as well. Bead merchant Kati Torda has seen her exports mostly to Europe, go from 5% of her revenue 8 years ago, to 50% last year. And she's looking to grow even more, as she expands her product lines.
Kati Torda (Sun Trade Beads owner): Because of that new potential, its not just the necklace and the bracelet. We produce home decorations. Which means, the potential is endless.
Narrator: Which means it will remain valuable in old and important cultural ceremony, and new, more casual uses too.