Just Where Does Our Love of Beads Originate?

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Women come naturally by their love for beads. They inherit it from their “great-great-twenty- seven-times-great-grandmother” — as the fairy tale says.

Close to the first rude implements for household work explorers find bits of shell, turquoise, amber, or lapis lazuli, pierced for stringing; rough and asymmetrical to be sure, but unmistakably beads. Each generation since the time of that very great-grandmother has had the taste for bead work in a greater or lesser degree, and with the different peoples it has shown itself differently.

With some it has been gorgeous and barbaric; others have wrought with exquisite fineness. Many have only seen in it a personal ornament; while others, like our North American Indian, have used it to beautify alike their household utensils and articles for ceremonial usage. Studying Indian handicrafts, we cannot but recognize the decorative possibilities of bead work.

The present interest in bead work undoubtedly sprang from our enthusiasm for Indian handicrafts. From admiring and wishing to possess baskets wrought with beads, and woven bead belts and chains, it was a natural and easy step to copying them. Whether the special branch of bead work one wishes to do is stringing, weaving, knitting, or sewing, the beads are, of course, the first consideration.

Wampum, the genuine Indian bead, is beautiful and costly. The wampum used by eastern tribes is long and cylindrical; in color ivory-white, black, or purple. Western wampum, shaped like tiny millstones, was generally made of clam-shells ground and drilled by hand. “The aboriginal tool for drilling, called dawihai (from da win, to bore, and hai, a stick), was a straight shaft of wood two feet long and half an inch in diameter at the middle. This the kneeling Indian twirled between the palms of his hands. The drill-point was of jasper or flint and fastened to the shaft by a lashing of hemp coated with pitch. Its origin is beyond tradition.

Sometimes the Indians fashioned beads of rainbow-colored abalone shells from the Pacific. The beautiful feather baskets of the Pomos are occasionally enriched by decorations of these beads. Again, in strings of white western wampum one finds a bead of wonderful sky-blue — an exquisite contrast; it is turquoise. These beads, however, are for a fortunate few. Those most of us must be content to possess are the Venetian glass beads, sometimes mistakenly spoken of as Indian, but which are only Indian because they are used by them.

In conclusion of “just where do our love for beads originate,” why, it is from the Indians of course, where else could it possibly be. Much, much we have all received from the Indians, and a love for beads is surely one of those things.

Reference Used: Copyright 1904 by Doubleday, Page and Company Published May 1904 (in public domain due to expiration of copyright)

White, Mary. How to Do Beadwork Complete with 100 Illustrations (Kindle Location 38). . Kindle Edition.

Re-Written by: Connie Limon, Bead Jewelry Artisan
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