Waist beads. You may have seen them, times without number, and probably played with or strummed them sometimes, if you’re a man. You may be wearing some now, or you may have worn them at one point or another, if you’re a lady.
Do you know it’s a cultural norm within most Ghanaian ethnic groups for a woman to wear one or more strings of beads on her waist—all the time? Norms such as these are religiously observed by the people of rural societies and small towns.
When a child is born a string or two of beads are worn for him or her, irrespective of the gender. As a male baby becomes a toddler, his beads are removed, but for a female child on the other hand, she is to keep wearing beads ‘forever’.
But today in the urban area, here in Accra, far away from the small towns and rural societies where tradition and custom hold sway, ladies, educated ones and career women are observing and practicing the custom.
When you observe the beads on display in Makola and elsewhere on the streets of the city, you can say ladies here are wearing beads of different colours, colour combinations and designs just like any woman would wear. Usually, the beads are made of hard plastics, glass wood or metal. They are strung together on a fairly strong string.
Recently I decided to conduct a little survey on the idea for an article for Labone Express. I interviewed ladies I work with first, and I phoned friends and old some flames afterwards for interview. A lot of the respondents in my little survey were, initially, wouldn’t open up and answer my questions. It’s almost like what you would experience when you make a proposition to a lady.
Some other respondents in this enterprise were excited and open to answer questions, even well beyond the scope of the survey [giggling]. In the end I gathered enough stuff to answer why a Ghanaian lady wears waist beads.
The reasons a woman wears beads on her waist are based on certain beliefs they have and from what they’ve learned by way of personal experiences. So here’s why a Ghanaian lady wears waist beads.
It gives me shape
Boatemaa, 31, one of the ladies told me she wears beads because ‘It gives me shape’. The most popular reason for a lady to wear beads on her waist is for the notions that it accentuates her waist. I discovered that accentuation of the waistline is a desirable feature for ladies.
The social construction of a beautiful woman here has body proportion where measurement of the waistline is smaller than those of the bust and hips. The Ghanaian lady believes that wearing waist beads helps her to define her waist in order to meet ‘this standard of beauty’.
It makes me beautiful
For some ladies, the waist bead is an essential fashion accessory. There’s a belief among our ladies that a woman who wears waist beads looks more sensuous and beautiful than one who does not wear any.
My man finds it attractive
Another popular reason a lady wears the waist beads is for a man’s pleasure. A good number of men, I’ve learned simply can’t get their eyes and hands off those beads. In very private moments, some men hold onto waist beads like they do prayer beads. According to ladies, men have been unhappy on occasions where they were not wearing beads.
I want to attract the attention of a man
This reason is probably the most compelling of all the reasons for women, I’ve heard. A woman wears beads to present herself as beautiful and sensuous to a man she desires, just to win his love. In instances such as this one, a woman invests energy, time and money into selecting and acquiring the ‘magic’ colours and designs to wear.
At a point in time, I asked one of the ladies, Vera: ‘Is there a time when a lady is happy she’s wearing waist beads?’
“Yes, all the time that she’s wearing it.” She replied “But most especially when she gets a new set of beads, and she’s ready to show it to that special someone”.
One of the best compliments a man can get from a lady, I’ve learned, is when she wears his name on her waist, just close to and a few inches above the ‘arena’.