The minefield of African bead history is certainly a fascinating one. More so, when their origins are questionable, and even contradicted by archaeological findings and ancient documents.
It's basically science vs. written evidence – and such was the case for the controversy relating to old Dogon Beads, a multitude of which we are fortunate to have here at The Bead Chest.
Old and Antique Dogon Beads Characteristics
Antique Dogon Beads are distinguished by a rough texture; chunky, rotund characteristics and a certain region of Africa – in which they are found in abundance. The Dogon people are a tribal collective comprising a large proportion of the Bandiagara populus – Bandiagara being located within Mali.
Dogon Beads are still prominent in supply here, since the Dogon tribe favored these trade beads amongst all others, accepting them graciously in return for furs, fuels and even slaves between the 18th-20th Centuries.
The Origin & History of Dogon Beads
There is however, a great deal of uncertainty about the origin of these trade beads. It was predominantly Dutch explorers whom introduced these trade beads to the Dogon tribes, yet little is known where they obtained them in such vast quantities.
Origins in Amsterdam and Germany
We know from the survival of mosaic gardens within the “Zaanstreek” area of Amsterdam (from the 18th/ 19th Centuries) that wound beads of this variant most definitely were easy to obtain, and held great decorative value. A garden in “Broek in Waterland” just north of Amsterdam survives to this day.
Speculation is also rife that these African tribal beads actually originate from Germany, from a thriving 19th Century production era often referred to as “Glasperlen”.
Production of the humble blown glass bauble, commonly used to decorate Christmas trees actually originates within the German region of Thuringia, in a small town known as Lauscha – and it dates back to the 16th Century!
Christoph Müller and Hans Greiner set up the first glass-works within the town, which bore all the right ingredients for glass production – a plentiful timber forest, and sand. From surviving artifacts, we can confirm that glass beads of the wound variety were most definitely produced here, and the neighboring town of Jena carried it on well into the 19th Century.
Deciphering the Origins of Old, Antique Dogon Beads
So, whose responsible for antique Dogon Beads? Recent findings by the City of Amsterdam authorities in 2006 suggest the old Dogon Bead origin is most probably Dutch.
A significantly large glass bead factory known as “Der Twee Rozen” existed within an area of the city known as ‘Rozengracht’; archaeological findings from the 2006 dig including a vast quantity of wound beads, along with the fritt and kilns required for mass production.
Historic documents also suggest the factory was in operation for over 20 years, and started life in 1657.
But this is a whole 60 years after the Lauscha factory opened!
A credible argument, however the factual evidence relating to European exploration is able to help shed some light on the situation. Quite simply, Dutch explorers were among the first (apart from the Spanish) to set sail from Europe, and land in Africa. From this small detail, we can probably glean that they were also the first to introduce Dogon Beads to Mali, and more than likely were producing them on their own doorstep!