African Art – Beadwork

African art is defined largely by the use of colourful beads in their jewellery, clothing, sculptures and paintings. Indeed, this important element has existed within the realm of African art for centuries.

As with all African art, their beadwork differed in significance, application and quality from one region to the next. The societies further inland valued items like shells, ivory and coral more than all others as these were particularly difficult and / or costly to come by. In ancient times, fish vertebrae, stones, quartz, pieces of wood and bark, as well as the seeds of some plants were used as beads. When the Europeans arrived, they brought with them glass beads. This was a product that had never before been witnessed by native Africans and was deemed to be extremely valuable. They became a coveted form of currency, and were traded for valuable items and even slaves.

Image of A Turcana tribeswoman in traditional beadwork.Lake Turcana, Kenya
A Turcana tribeswoman in traditional beadwork.Lake Turcana, Kenya

Beadwork is primarily used to decorate the human body in the form of jewellery and hair accessories. This applies for both men and women. The Yoruba tribes of Nigeria would don the chief in a beaded crown and veil, while the Dinkas of Kenya would clothe their soldiers in a breastplate of colourful beads. Beads are also used to indicate victories, marital status and number of children. In Ghana, Mali, Songhai and Nigeria, the kings sometimes wore such heavy beading that they needed physical support from their attendants so that they did not lose their balance when walking or standing up.

The colours and designs often bear their own significance. Certain designs are for newly married couples, while others are for the birth of a first child or to indicate social rank, for example.

Beadwork has become an educational tool for many cultures, as older women use it to teach the girls about social etiquette and marital expectations.

Today, visitors to Africa are sure to see bead-workers selling their wares on the sides of the roads or from stalls and shops. They have successfully established businesses to support themselves and their extended families using this valuable craft.

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Effects Of Climatic And Environmental Changes On Ancient African Civilisations

Hundreds of thousands of years ago, the entire planet earth looked very different to what modern man experiences today. Continents were not yet divided, and the vegetation and animals were different. Significantly, the climate was also vastly different to what it is today. Climate plays an integral role in determining the plants and animal that live in a certain areas, as well as how habitable a place is for human beings.

In fact, even the theory of the evolution of man was dependent largely on the climatic influences on our ancient ancestors. It is hypothesised that the ancient versions of man were forced to walk upright, lose body hair and develop their coordination for survival in a changing environment. New skills also needed to be learned as farming techniques and living habits had to be adapted.

Ancient Africa experienced major vacillations between mega-droughts and Ice Ages, although these fluctuations occurred over thousands and thousands of years. As humans continued to develop and evolve through these phases, they needed to make major adaptations, not only to their ways of life, but also to their personal body structure. Prior to 135 000 years ago, the whole of Africa was lush and fertile, with a tropical climate. Then, the most intense mega-drought ever to occur hit the continent in the period referred to as the early part of the Late Pleistocene epoch. This is believed to have led to the migration of most of our human ancestors into other areas that were more habitable and fertile. Lake Malawi has been used by scientists as a rain gauge to ascertain water levels in ancient times. Research has shown that, during this mega-drought, the lake’s level dropped at least 1968 feet, or 600 metres! Evolutionists claim that this severe lack of water not only pushed ancient man from the area, it also forced aquatic animals (such as fish) to develop the facilities to be able to survive on dry land, thus evolving into land animals.

As people flocked out of the continent, only a very small proportion of this specific generation remained. Humankind as we know it is widely believed to have come from these few remaining on the continent, who evolved significantly and in response to the climatic changes.

These conditions continued until about 70 000 years ago, when the climate was again characterised by wetter conditions. These led to the growth and renewal of fresh vegetation, as well as an increased water supply to the region. More people were in the area during this time of abundance, and the population grew. This increase in numbers eventually led to migrations due to space limitations and the ownership of land.

Then, about 20 000 years ago, an Ice Age overcame the entire earth. This meant that the planet underwent a long-term period of cold temperatures over most of its surface. In places like North America and Eurasia, giant ice sheets covered enormous proportions of the land, making it impossible to farm and, sometimes, even live in these areas. This final Ice Age lasted for about 9 500 years. It forced most of the populations to migrate to the highlands, where they would be relatively protected from the ice sheets. Again, these civilisations had to adapt their farming methods, and change their diet, social habits, clothing and migratory patterns. This forced an evolution to a certain extent. Body hair was necessary to keep people warm, their skin lightened due to a lack of the harsh rays of the sun that they experienced during the mega-droughts, etc…

When this Ice Age came to an end 10 500 years ago, areas like the Sahara were left fertile and healthy. This made it and the other areas like it the ideal spots in which to settle as ancient man began to descend from the highlands. Animals and plants thrived in this environment, which made it very desirable in the eyes of mankind. The abundance of food, water and sunshine again changed the habits and physical structures of our earliest forefathers.

These conditions lasted for some time, but the Sahara in particular continued to experience fluctuations between humid and dry conditions. These eventually left the entire area unable to yield crops or sustain life for any extended period of time. Today, it remains a large stretch of desert. Then, approximately 2500 years ago, the group of people who had made their home in the Sahara began to follow the direction of the Nile River, which held promise of a rich water supply. The arid conditions of the Sahara and its surrounds continue to the present day.

Africa has, since prehistoric times, proven to be a place of fascination, life and evolution. Changes in the climate were often dramatic, and these were, to a great extent, responsible for determining the ancient civilisations that inhabited this vast continent. It is no wonder that many researchers and scientists maintain that Africa is the Cradle of Mankind, and research continues to yield fascinating evidence of this theory.