In Odumase Krobo, lives an internationally-recognised and well-respected master bead maker, Nomoda Ebenezer Djaba, better known as Cedi. Cedi’s Bead Industry has been in the Cedi family for hundreds of years and today we invite you to discover the art of bead making in Ghana.
Cedi’s Bead Industry is located in the capital of the Manya Krobo Kingdom, a quaint township nestled at the foot of the Akuapem-Togo mountains in the Eastern Region of Ghana. If you want to meet the man himself, as well as discover and learn more about the beautiful and ancestral craft of bead making in Ghana, you should know that it’s approximately a 1h30 min drive from Greenviews, our complex of luxury apartments in Accra.
A brief introduction into bead making in Ghana
Ghana is one of the largest producers of beads in Africa, with the Krobo people being one of the main producers and innovators of recycled glass bead manufacturing. With its wealth of history, evolution, and growth, Ghana’s bead making tradition dates back centuries.
Besides being used as personal ornaments, recycled glass beads in Ghana have an important cultural, religious, and social significance.
Originally, beads were mainly worn by traditional kings of chiefs and queen mothers to display their social status and wealth during ceremonies, rites, rituals, and the most traditional ghanaian festivals.
Their use today has extended well beyond their ancestral usage, becoming part of the Ghanaian identity and lifestyle, and reaching a worldwide audience. They’re an essential part of the Dipo rites, a traditional puberty rite of passage in Ghana for young girls.
A short history of Ghanaian Beads
The word bead is derived from the Old English word of Germanic origin gebed, and the Latin word bene, meaning prayer.
If we take a look at the history of waist beads in Ghana, we find one of several regional glass bead making traditions in West Africa, and all of these traditions evolved over many centuries in the context of long distance trade.
Transcontinental trade over the Sahara from the 8th century and ocean-going trade from the 1480s transferred finished beads as well as raw materials for glass bead production. They also introduced knowledge of various methods of working beads and glass.
Today the Bida of Nigeria and Krobo of Ghana are two of the most important African glass bead manufacturers.
The 5 types of beads
1. Powder Glass Bead
Powder glass beads are made using pulverized glass. Powder glass is obtained by crushing used bottles or scrap glass with a metal mortar and a pestle. The pulverized glass is then sifted to obtain a fine powder glass. The powder glass is mixed with ceramic pigment to obtain different colors.
Inspired by European striped drawn glass beads, these are produced using vertical-axis moles one by one. After filling the beads chambers with powder glass, a needle-like tool is used to make channels in the powder along the bead chamber walls, which are then filled with contrasting coloured powder glass.
2. Bodom Beads
Bodom beads are the ancestors of present-day powder glass beads in Ghana. They are a type of powder glass beads once produced exclusively for chiefs and queen mothers used in diverse rites, ceremonies and festivals.
The word bodom means dog in the Akan language, as the Bodom bead seems to “bark” to be noticed. Those of a certain age and design are valuable and often considered to have magical or medicinal powers. They are used with pride in ceremonies, including funerals, and in traditional festivals and gatherings. They are passed down through generations as a valuable heirloom.
Although yellow is the preferred color by chiefs and queen mothers, nowadays Bodom beads are made in a variety of colors.
3. Translucent and Opaque Glass Beads
Translucent beads, known locally as Korli, are made from crushed glass, which is also called frit.
After the bottle or scrap glass has been washed and dried, it is broken into smaller pieces to fit into the desired mold.
4. Glazed, Painted or Written Beads
These type beads are created by painting designs on either plain powder glass, translucent, or opaque glass beads. A mixture of powder glass, powdered ceramic dye/pigment, and water is used.
They are very popular as this method can provide a much richer variety of designs than the powder glass beads.
5. Seed or waist beads
These are made with the same technique as the regular powder glass beads with the size being the only difference. The mold has small holes. And a tiny cassava leaf stalk is placed in each one. Once the cassava leaf stalks are in place, powder glass is poured to fill all holes.
Tools used in bead making
Bead making is still done mainly at an artisan level in hundreds, if not thousands of small shops, with relatively simple equipment and tools following traditional methods.
Many more tools are involved in the process of bead making, these are just a few of main interests.
- Kiln: Building a kiln is one of the first steps in bead making. The kiln is constructed from clay formed by termites for the colony structures. The kiln allows the molds in which beads are made, to be placed to be fired.
- Clay mold: Molds give shape to the beads.
- Wooden Paddle/Bat: used to shape and dress the clay mold.
- Kaolin: a soft, earthy, usually white clay mineral used to coat the mold to prevent the glass from sticking to the clay mold.
- Tin funnel: funnels are used to tip powder glass or frit into the molds. Different sized funnels help to keep glass colors separated and to control the amount poured.
Visiting the Cedi Bead Industry in Krobo
The visit costs 150 ghs per person. It starts with a 15 minute presentation by Cedi, where he introduces himself, how he got into bead making, the different types of beads, how each bead is made and a small demonstration of the powder glass bead making.
He then takes you on a brief tour around all the steps of bead making (the kilns and polishing process). You then get to try bead making yourself! You will specifically get to do a bodom bead and recycled glass beads (which are included in the price and you get to take home).
Because the process can be quite lengthy (your beads will need to be placed into the kiln, then left to cool down, then polished, etc), we suggest you go for a local lunch or a walk around the town of Krobo (if you visit on a Wednesday or Saturday, it is market day in Krobo and you can take yourself into a wander around the local market!).