Batik Bone Beads are distinguishable by their unique geometric patterns and contrasting black/ white or brown/ white colors. The patterning is achieved using a centuries old wax-resist dying technique known as “Batik” or “mudcloth dying”. Thought to date back to the 4th Century, the technique was originally employed by Javanese tailors for the dying of cloth – usually for royalty. Peat from the river bed was often used to achieve darker colors, hence the term “mudcloth Batik”.
Batik Bone Beads undergo a very similar process to that employed in the 4th Century. Before dying, the beads are first left out in the sun to enhance their whiteness. This natural method of bleaching also causes the bone to become more porous. Designs are then applied to each bead by hand using a thin stick coated in beeswax. Usually, only the areas intended for dying will remain exposed. Then, the beads are immersed into a natural dye solution made of peat and water, or plant dye - a process generally repeated several times to achieve a near-black color. After the dye has set, the wax is carefully removed to expose the preserved white pattern.
The motifs featured on Kenyan Batik Bone Beads are heavily influenced by animals and the natural environment. Some of the most common examples are zebra stripes, leaves, leopard spots and teeth. Batik Bone Beads from Ghana tend to be far more elaborate, often featuring Adinkra symbols, such as the three “Adrinkahene” circles which represent greatness, tolerance and leadership. Genuine African Batik Bone Beads are made individually, meaning no two are ever quite alike. This, coupled with their many unique designs makes them a worthwhile investment for any jewelry designer!