🇿🇲What do Waist Beads mean in Zambia?🇿🇲
Spoiler alert! We are all about waist beads. We breath, eat, and live waist beads. It's easy to find excitement in an object that seems to have so many different variations in their meaning, ways of production or even how they are passed on or celebrated. Seeing that the waist beads we sell are produced in Zambia from within the Zambian culture, we saw fit to highlight the meaning of waist beads in the Zambian context.
Starting this journey of exploration one major difference I noticed between the way in which waist beads are worn in Zambia and the way in which they are worn in other countries is the communicative intention.
Like in everything traditional or cultural, colour always has a significance. Some times we might not know the meaning of colours but similarly as with names, no matter how washed out or forgotten the meaning of a name or colour seems to be, there mostly certainly ALWAYS is a meaning behind it. I noticed that it is not only the meanings of the colours of the waist beads that differ but also the communicative intention behind adorning ones self with whichever colour.
A widespread trend I noticed with the cultures I have come across, once waistbeads are worn, they never come off. They are to be worn with the intention never to remove them unless they come off them selves, which implies that the symbolism attached to the colours portray a more fundamental message. In Zambia we switch up our waist beads a lot more.
Although I must admit, naturally I am not familiar with the specific traditions of waist beads throughout the 72 different ethnolinguistic communities in Zambia and how they each wear and celebrate their waist beads, the ones I have come across within Zambia all seem to share this trait; they change their waist beads depending on what they would like to communicate at that moment.
In comparison to let's say Ghana, the meaning behind colours in the Zambian context is much more specific rather than generic. Green for example symbolises fertility in both cultures. In Ghanian culture green waist beads symbolise fertility as a fundamental attribute or the wish to attract that type of blessing in your life in general. In the Zambian context however, it means, in a much more precise manner, that you are fertile at that very moment...like right now....as in, I'm ovulating at this very moment and am fertile as we speak! So depending on where you are in your menstrual cycle you can easily use colour codes to communicate your current state of affairs, moods, or life phases with your partner and would naturally change the colour of your waist beads much more frequently. No wonder waist beads have a much more intimate or sexualised connotation within Zambia, similar to that of lingerie or negligee.
As in many cultures sexuality is traditionally viewed in connection with heteronormative marriages. And like in many African cultures weddings are not simply the day a couple decides to share their commitment to one another with the world but rather are a series of public events and family gatherings that lead up to an extravaganza of food, customs and culture bringing two families together and teaching and advising the couple on the work, compromise and commitment needed to have long lasting and happy marriage.💍💍💍
One of the many events that lead up to the grand finale is a few days before the wedding day and involves only the bride. Elder women who have been married and a leading matriarch, called Chisungu in Lenje, will sit the bride-to-be down and explain all the hacks and tricks to ensure her success in all endeavours going forward. They explain to her how to navigate conflicts within the marriage or conflicts between the couple's families, what to do or not to do when trying to conceive, family planning.....aaaaaaand among many other things, the meaning of waist beads and their colours. Now, I am not yet married myself so unfortunately I haven't had "the talk" yet so I wouldn't be able to spill the tea but also...technically....I wouldn't be allowed to. According to tradition, the details shared on that occasion are not meant for "unmarried" ears and are too intense for people to know who aren't yet married. Well it definitely heightens my curiosity but I guess I will just have to wait.🤷🏽
Waist beads albeit being very traditional are still a very common piece of jewellery that you can find peeping out from the back of low cut jeans and cheeky crop tops. However, with modernity, urbanisation and the hybridisation of cultures as a result of it, the tradition and legacy attached to them has taken a toll. In rural areas, as in any country, it is more common for communities to practices their traditions with less external influences. That being said, the initiation ceremonies held in which the waist beads are originally passed on for the first time are more commonly practiced in rural Zambia compared to urban spaces. Due to the ever increasing urbanisation, it goes without saying that traditional initiation ceremonies such as the Mooya within the Lenje culture, are being held less and less, which also means that fewer girls and women receive their first waist beads in such a setting and therefore receive them in a different manner and most probably also at a later age. That would truly be an interesting topic to find out.....how do Zambians celebrate waist beads in urban settings? If we no longer celebrate customs according to strict traditions but find our own "remixed" version of a mix of Zambian cultures, how have these cultural shifts affected waist beads? Am I alone in that I simply went and got my own waist beads...no aunty or elder, no initiation ceremony, no traditional rite of passage....just me picking up waist beads and deciding that it's time for me to wear them. I guess that is a topic for another blog post. 🧐🧐
How did you get your first waist beads? Here with us? Let us know in the comments below. Stay waisted!