The tradition of African waistbeads were made popular by the Yoruba tribe of Nigeria. The were worn a symbols of womanhood, fertility, protection and spirituality. In history these beads are recorded to have been worn as early as the 15th century to serve many celebratory purposes including rites of passage. Sometimes beads are worn as a status symbol when they are outside the clothes. When worn inside the clothes or without clothes they are symbols to a husband or lover.
It is common for women in Ghana to wear waist beads as ornaments, as well as for symbolic adornment, which serves as a sign of wealth, femininity or aristocracy, as well as spiritual well-being. During Ghanaian naming ceremonies, babies are typically adorned with waist beads, while young adults also wear beads around their waists and on their hips during puberty rites as a portrayal of femininity. These beads are believed to possess the power to attract as well as evoke deep emotional responses.
Many Ghanaian women will tell you that they use their waist beads to shape their waist. It is believed that the practice of wearing multiple waist beads over time will help to keep the waist small and accentuate the hips. Since traditional waist beads are strung on cotton cord (and without a clasp/hook) they can be a good tool to measure weight gain and loss. They will not stretch; they will either break or continue to roll up the waist when weight has been gained. Similarly, they will roll down or eventually become so loose they will fall off when weight has been lost.
Don’t be fooled by photos of only slender women wearing waist beads. Women of all shapes and sizes can confidently adorn themselves with waist beads as well. Because traditionally beads are worn along your panty or bikini line and not your actual waist it allows for all women to comfortably wear waist beads no matter their size. Wearing them is really a personal reflection and appreciation for your God-given beauty.