I got a glimpse of Ghana’s bead culture, and really did shop ’til I dropped.
As one of the major crafts in Ghana, bead-making dates back to ancient African history, so this Thursday, I visited the Koforidua Beads Market in Aburi. The market is located in the Eastern Region, only an hour’s drive from Accra. Since the bead traders convene only on Thursdays, I made sure to take in as much as I could and ended up buying loads of beads.
Despite the oppressive heat, I wandered through the rows of concrete stalls and gawked at the huge variety of beads. From Ashanti/Krobo beads and translucent glass beads to vinyl and plastic ones to huge beads as big as my thumb to tiny shiny beads, the market glistened with piles of bracelets lying on tables and hanging on walls. In addition to necklaces, earrings, and bracelets, several stalls sold strings of beads in bulk, waist beads, and anklets. A few stalls even sold old West African coins from the colonial era and other African goods (instruments, wallets with African print, etc.). The vendors were mostly older men and women in their fifties and above, and wore throbes, kufi caps, and hijabs since many were from a Muslim community. They were busy stringing bracelets and necklaces, but would stop to boast about their beads being the best in the whole market once they glimpsed us obrunis shuffling by their stalls.
While at the market, my objective was to find Ashanti beads with unique patterns and pleasing colors since they’re the most common beads found in Ghana. Despite sometimes looking dusty, these colorfully painted beads revealed the hard hours spent by the workers who hand-made them. One of the women I bought a bunch of bracelets from explained to me how the Ashanti beads made. First, the bead makers crush broken glass from recycled bottles and other glass items into a fine glass powder. The base colors of the beads are formed from colored glass or ceramic dyes used to color the glass powder. The powder is then poured into molds that provide their shape and cooked in traditional kilns. After the beads cool down, the bead makers paint each bead with colorful patterns.
As I continued marveling at the beads, I eventually came across Bobby, a leader in the Ghana Bead Society. Bobby explained that unlike other markets where you’re likely to find a bit of everything, the Koforidua Beads Market sold beads and beads only. I looked around his stall, and a string of interestingly shaped beads the size of walnuts caught my eye. It seems like the beads were made from melting different colored shards of glass. On the white shards of glass were weird little faces. Intrigued by the weird little faces, I asked Bobby where the eccentric beads were from. These particular beads were bought in Nigeria, but he wasn’t sure where exactly they were from. He, like all bead traders, travels around Africa and barters to get different types of interesting beads to sell. From making beads to trading beads, it was apparent that Ghana’s beads were a huge part of their culture. Although they may not be always worn to represent specific tribes or chieftancies anymore, the bead trade lives on. After buying my last necklace from Bobby, I was pleased with my heavy bag of beads and looked for my friends.
The long warm morning hunting for beads finally came to an end. It was quite a spectacle to see so many varieties of beads, and I was impressed by the beautiful designs that the bea makers had created in stringing together intricate necklaces. I would highly recommend anyone visiting Ghana to visit the Koforidua Beads Market.