African Trade Beads: Telling the Story of Gogo Grandmothers

The plight of African orphans is something all of us are painfully aware of. But, while it’s sadly true that many orphans in Ghana, Malawi and the Sudan are forced to make their own way in life, there are parts of Africa where village women have taken it upon themselves to adopt these unfortunate souls. “Gogo” as they are more commonly known, are women who devote their lives to caring for Aids orphans and child-headed families in Zomba District, Malawi.

Gogo grandmothers command the same respect as village elders, largely for their efforts in establishing co-operatives within their small communities. These co-operatives – many overseen by SAFE-Africa – provide the women with access to food, support and educational resources for the children in their care, as well as an outlet by which many now sell their wares.

Gogo story bracelets are a relatively recent innovation – although there is evidence that certain tribes have been using African Trade Beads to create similar items of adornment for centuries. They were conceived by grandmothers in Malawi who, desperate to find a means of supporting their adoptive families, began producing jewelry for the Western market. A Gogo bracelet will usually comprise a number of different types of African Trade Beads; black Kakamba Prosser Beads to symbolize death; three sandcast beads to represent the orphans; Clay Beads to represent the building of new homes, and three Padre Beads in reference to the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. A pretty and light-hearted addition, the Millefiori Beads represent a gogo’s garden, where she grows the maize to feed her children.

Gogo bracelets are a wonderful way of helping Africa’s grandmothers to provide for the futures of the children in their care. However, they have also spawned a trend for story bracelets which have uniquely personal meaning. What would your bracelet say about you?

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Posted in African Jewelry, African Trade Beads, Kakamba Prosser Beads

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