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Uses of African Trade Beads: Trade and Economy

This is the third post in a five-part series on the different uses of African trade beads. Today we are discussing the use of beads in African trade and economy. Africa's thriving merchant trade of the 19th Century is but a forgotten memory, save for the survival of the stunning currency used in exchange for valuable goods and slaves. Today, African Trade Beads themselves have become vital to the work of native and international artisans, as well as valuable collectible antiques, and Western Africa is now recognized as the largest region for handmade bead production in the World. Few cultures have excelled in the intricate craftsmanship and handiwork involved in the creation of African Trade Beads, however notable areas of Africa are attributed with the most exquisite examples of Old Fancy Powderglass Krobo Beads and multi-colored Chevron Beads - many of which we have sourced for your enjoyment at The Bead Chest. Ghana, Kenya and Ethiopia respectively have become the largest producing areas of beads in recent years, both to create sustainable regional economies, and to meet the demand of fashion-conscious African women whose love for accessorizing has created a large gap in the African jewelry market. Many people consider Fair Trade to be a Western ideology, developed after increased tourism to Africa in the last 30 years realized that the continent was still very much a collective of developing countries dominated by poverty. In reality, African people have long been working toward the ethical goals of the Fair Trade Movement, striving to create sustainable economies, improved lifestyles, conditions and incomes for themselves over many years. The industry for African Trade Beads has enabled them to do so. Rural communities in Zimbabwe set up a not-for-profit organization known as A.S.A.P (A Self-Help Assistance program) in order to provide better avenues for trade. Similarly, the HOPE Ofihira organization developed within Magwi, Sudan, has enabled young and older women alike to develop their independence and become self-sufficient through plying their trade. Many other African organizations and co-operatives have also evolved in recent years – including Fabric of Life, connecting the craftsmen and women of rural and less populous areas with avenues for trade. Africa's most advanced economy for African Trade Beads exists in Ghana, where the production of Recycled Glass Beads has become big-business. National bead festivals are now a popular sight within the urbanized Odumase-Krobo and Damba. Local co-operatives have even gone as far as to bring their plight for an International Festival, to the European Union with the aid and backing of the Ghanaian government. This achievement brought about the first international beads festival within Ghana in October 2010. The event packed 200 stalls, 100 traders and thousands of visitors into a space usually used for monthly and annual regional markets. For the first time in history, Ghanaian artisans now have a direct connection with the International market themselves, influencing their own prices, sales and business relationships to further develop this economy. The Bead Chest also liaises directly with Ghanaian and Kenyan artisans, sourcing the wonderful Old Venetian African Trade Beads you see on the site today. Want to be a part of this exciting, forward thinking movement to improve the African economy for generations to come? Shop no further than our stunning collections!