Yoruba Beads derive their name from one of the largest ethnic groups in West Africa. The Yoruba Tribe numbers as many fifty million people and is centralized in Nigeria where it comprises one fifth of the total population. However, Yoruba people also exist in Ghana, the Republic of Benin and Togo. Interestingly, the Yoruba People have lived in advanced urban kingdoms for over 1500 years and the majority of Africans brought to the Americas during the slave trade period were of Yoruban descent.
The Yoruba People have an extraordinary reputation and rich tradition for artistic expression including sculpture, metalwork, woodcarving, textiles, and Beadwork. Beads play an important role in Yoruba culture. They are a symbol of status and are used to signify a person of important political or spiritual distinction. Yoruban beadwork has been incorporated into many ceremonial items including beaded belts and sashes, beaded headdresses and crowns, accessories such as bags and knife cases, and beaded foot cushions for royalty and other traditional leaders such as shamans. Popular decorative motifs on these items include human faces, birds, animals, and flowers. The colors used to make these designs have symbolic meaning.
A number of African bead varieties are also made by the Yoruba to be used for jewelry. Yoruba Glass beads are made by three distinct techniques namely lapidary, powder glass, and drawn glass methods. One better-known variety of Powder Glass Beads from Yorubaland is the Keta Awuazi Beads that is made by shaping crushed glass and then firing in an oven. These are also known as Wet Powder Glass Beads since unlike Krobo Powdered Glass they are made by wetting glass powder. Such beads are often made in the color red to emulate the much more valuable but rare Coral Bead. Other kinds of beads are also made by Yoruba people using non-glass materials such as Yoruba Brass Beads also known as Bumpy Beads.