Frequently Asked Questions about African Waist Beads

Frequently Asked Questions about African Waist Beads

Hello Love,

Welcome to this conversation with love and light! Let's talk about one of Mawiblo's favorite tools of intention - African Waist Beads.

Though waist beads have long been used all across Africa, along with other regions of the world, Black Americans have rejuvenated and revised the wearing of waist beads in the diasporic community through collaborative cross-cultural influence. The confusion is clear when one of the most popular searches regarding waist beads is “Are waist beads evil?” (No, they’re not). 

Here, we’ll go over some frequently asked questions and common misconceptions about traditional African waist beads, and also attempt to provide perspectives to waist bead wearers who were born and raised in Africa as to why some Black Americans use waist beads outside of the traditionally prescribed ways.

  • What are waist beads?
    • Waist beads are beaded strands of string worn on the torso. African waist beads refer to beaded strands that are worn with specific cultural and spiritual intention & understanding. The strings of waist beads can be made from various kinds of fibers and materials, such as cotton and hemp. The same goes for bead variation, although glass and acrylic beads are the easiest to find. Choosing specific kinds of materials may also correspond with the functionality or intention of a waist bead strand.
  • Why do people wear waist beads?
    • Africa is a massive continent with many countries, cultures, and tribes. For this reason, waist bead beliefs and practices vary among wearers. However, there are some common reasons and rituals that many wearers share.
      • Coming of Age
        • In some traditions, girls receive their first set of waist beads as a rite of passage into womanhood, or once they have their first menstrual cycle. Usually these beads are meant to be concealed under the clothing, creating a new awareness for young wearers as they grow into understanding their developing bodies. Waist beads may also be practical in their use as a rite of passage, indicating marital eligibility to potential suitors.
      • Positive relationship with body
        • Once installed onto a woman’s body, waist beads become an extension of Self, reacting to her own special way of moving through the world. While it may take new wearers some time to get used to the feeling of long-term waist bead wear, their beads are quickly appreciated with heightened bodily awareness. Beads feel tighter and rise when your body bloats, and loosen when it contracts, causing the beads to fall lower on the torso. Waist beads are like a notification bell for your body, positively broadening physical Self-awareness & the way you communicate with yourself.
      • Sacred Feminine
        • Traditionally, most African waist beads are meant to be concealed under the wearer’s clothes. Hiding the beads not only wards off unwanted energies that may detract from the specific blessings and manifestations poured into the beads, but hidden beads also represent the sacredness of the divine feminine. This is also why, traditionally, beads are meant to be worn low on the torso, near the womb, as the space where life forms is a well-known locale for birthing life & energy.
      • Manifestation & Protection
        •  It’s customary for elders or spiritual leaders to cleanse and/or bless waist beads before they’re worn. From there, wearers can set intentions with the beads and use them to represent their desires. Once installed on the waist, waist beads are said to close off of energy circuits of the body, aiding in protecting the body from negativity. When used as tools of manifestation, it is also believed that the breaking of a strand of waist beads could signal the ceasing of a journey. Similar to prayer beads, waist beads can be used to amplify prayer and intention with affirmations (of mind or mouth) repeated with each bead. When used for these reasons, waist beads are to be worn low on the torso.
      • Marital bond
        • Just as they are a rite of passage for girls entering into womanhood, waist beads become a rite between married partners. Waist beads represent the special marital bond between spouses, with a woman’s spouse sharing the secret of her beads with her. It’s not uncommon for spouses to know how many beads their wives wear or be familiar with the song of their partner’s beads when they share intimate space together.
      • Weight loss (Black Americans)
        • Although waist beads are practical for weight accountability in African traditions, many Black Americans find a significant appeal in waist beads’ ability to help manage how much they consume. As it’s much easier to find fresh and organic food in markets in Africa, food is much different in the USA, which may be one reason why waist beads as tools of weight management became highlighted in the diasporic Black culture. The use is simple; if you feel your waist beads tighten and rise, or if you find yourself pulling them up while eating, this signals that your body and belly are full. In contrast, the beads will fall down on your body and feel much more loose when your torso is more comfortably relaxed, therefore less full.
      • Fashion (Mostly Black Americans)
        • The final reason people wear waist beads is to adorn themselves. There are many traditionalists that will insist that waist beads are a spiritual tool only, and for that reason should never just be worn “for fashion.” However, many wearers, especially African-Americans, have adopted waist beads as a means to express themselves, their identities, and to marry their beliefs with those of the motherland. 
  • Who can wear waist beads?
    • We’ve gotten many messages over time asking if white people, or people who aren’t Black, can wear waist beads. We always direct people to do their research (which you are doing right now by reading this guide) to understand the purpose and history of waist beads. We also let them know that it is not for us, or anyone, to culturally gate-keep. Cultures are influenced by other cultures, with each generation leaving their own mark, reflecting their place in the sea of time. So while we would never tell anyone not to wear waist beads, we would never tell you that you should wear them either. The decision comes from the wearer. After doing your research, check in with what resonates for you, or doesn’t. Only when you have done intentional work to broaden your awareness should you choose if waist beads are right for you as an individual. 
  • Where do you place waist beads?
    • As mentioned earlier, there are two primary options for waist bead placement. If you are wearing waist beads for weight accountability, they should be placed higher on the waistline. Not too high up, as you want them to have a place to rise when your stomach grows. Not too low down because you want there to be a noticeable loosening and dropping of the beads on the torso when your body begins to shed weight.
    • If you’re observing spiritual practices, waist beads should be worn low on the torso, near the womb area. As you may already know, the womb is where life originates and incubates, making it a powerful location for spiritual intention to arise from. It is also important to conceal beads used in manifestation practices so that you have control over who has access to this spiritual information.
  • When should I remove my waist beads?/ How long do waist beads last?
    • Tie-On waist beads are meant for long-term wear, staying on the wearer’s body without removal anywhere from a few weeks to a few years. In general, Tie-On waist beads should be removed when they have served their purpose. Barrel Clasp waist beads, or waist beads with ‘open & close’ closures are meant to be removed regularly, if not daily (hence the ability to easily take them on and off). 
    • Waist beads can be replaced to refresh a journey or intention. They can also be swapped out for new colors, for those wearing them as adornments. The duration of waist bead wear will depend both on what materials the waist beads are made from, how the waist beads are installed on the body, and the habits and lifestyle of the wearer. Different personal handling styles, hygienic practices, and installation methods can all affect why, how and when waist bead removal occurs.
  • How do you put waist beads on?
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