Few tribes in Africa are as fashion conscious as the nomadic Fulani people of Nigeria. From coming of age until their final days on earth, Fulani women make it their mission to set themselves apart from the rest by adorning themselves in the most extravagant ways possible.
The rules concerning self-adornment among the Fulani are rather more relaxed in comparison to other Nigerian tribes, such as the Yoruba. Whereas they primarily use beads for divination rites and spiritual expression, the Fulani believe they have a more practical purpose – a means to flaunt their wealth. In much the same way as women who wear expensive diamonds are perceived in the West, the Fulani consider women who wear more jewelry to be far superior in rank and status.
Of course, there are some types of traditional jewelry which continue to be worn for spiritual reasons. “Maji”, a string of mainly oblong or tubular glass beads, are thought to be a type of Islamic rosary used in prayer. Some women also wear a neck-piece made of leather, onto which beads are sewn, to indicate their origin, age and ancestral heritage.
Glass Fulani Beads are among the most recognizable types of bead used for adornment. Distinguished by their tubular shape, they are commonly worn as great strings of single colors around the neck, and for pendulous hairstyles similar to Afro-American braids. Stylistically, there are no rules about the number of strands that can be worn at any one time, nor colors which cannot be worn together. Women are free to decorate their bodies with as many strings of beads as they fit – and they often do so, just to out-dress their peers!