Nigeria is culturally rich. Jigida culture is one important symbol of material and body cultures we need to corner in the context of tourism. But what does jigida, the waist bead mean from the endogenous conception and practice?

Countries and their population groups or ethnic communities bead and beautify. Nigeria is outstanding when it comes to beading. In beading the body, ethnic groups mark themselves out. I want to shine light on beading the body, particularly, the waist by women in Nigeria and Africa as a whole. It is common knowledge that there are many reasons why societies adore the body. An example can be found around why decorating the body with waist beads matter. But do you know why?

Let us know now that – over the centuries, beads have served as much more than articles of jewellery as well as even served to express social status, political history and religious beliefs. As much as they have been considered as symbols of sacred knowledge, with healing powers, they have also appeared in offerings for the passage to future life. Moreover, they have been employed as a unit of exchange in market systems. The very small, symmetrical, kaleidoscopic beads are frequently of great beauty – and they are namely arranged and coordinated in some enormous variety of materials. They may be seen in necklaces, bracelets, anklets and as hair decoration. The manner in which these beads are used systematically helps to define the particular concept of beauty held by an ethnic group. Both the individual selection and combinations found in bead arrangements offer valuable information considerable to a society.

There is no question that the internet is filled with all sorts of write ups – short and expanded, researched, group focused, fictional, or experiential opinions on African waist and neck beads. That is to say, you can find a lot of stories about the traditions and customs associated with African waist beads. These traditions span the centuries. Of course, it must be said that beads themselves have had a huge part in the history of Africa for hundreds of years. They may have first existed in materials like bone, teeth, stone, and seeds, which may seem culturally and urbanely outdated to use. Beads had expanded to include glass, ceramic, plastics and even gemstones.

Surely, beads were also used to trade and even to pay for slaves, gold, property and other valuable items through North and Western African regions for many years. Beads are ethnographically and archaeologically important for the identity of people and societies. The African variety appears to have their origin with the Yoruba population group in Africa. Yet every society is unique with what beads matter to them. The Yoruba for example has migrated to Nigeria with their culturally cherished beads. Ghana, however, is pretty much attributed to be the bead production capital of the world. Congo, Senegal, Uganda, and Cameroun alike many other regional African societies stand out to adore their beads. Yoruba women consider theirs to be “of the earth”, even the source of life. Some believe that they will help protect pregnant women or even provide birth control as did their ancestors many years ago. When it comes to cultural beads, healers are sensitive to the intricacies that each bead embodies.

Pointers show that there are names associated with different types of beaded chains for the waist. Some of the names have been identified as Mgbaji, jigida, Giri-Giri, Yomba, Jel-Jelli, Bin Bin, Ileke idi and Djalay Djalay.

African women still wear them today to protect themselves from negative energy. In rites of passages requiring the deployment of jigida or beads, efforts are made to have them in place for ritual efficacy. As such, beads are steeped in the old traditions that attribute the beads to having healing properties and influence. The colors of the rainbows are considered to have balancing properties when used in the crafting. Special powers have even been attributed to those who wear them by the Orb of Djenra for example. If you know what you are doing, adding certain semi-precious stones can help you heal particular ailments. To bead is to be creative with rites beads can hasten to achieve results.

Waist beads are created to be worn below the belly. You can find them made with just about any kind of shell, gemstone, glass, plastic, pearl or even clay or wood. Women of all shapes and sizes wear them. Body adoration is marked with essential beads of beauty and charm.

Some women even use them as an instrument in losing weight. When the strands start getting tight it’s time to do something about your weight. This practical idea has also filtered down from the early African endogenous women – and it is one that still works today. Modernity pays attention to what enhancement only beads can offer with less emphasis on the rites of empowerment of beads.

While you will find many tales that are immersed in tradition, certainly modern culture has adopted the wearing of them. Some prefer to wear them under their clothing only to be seen by themselves or their spouses. Others flaunt them on bare bellies or even over their clothing. Common today in Nigeria for example is the variety of beads for neck and the seen and unseen waist part. For more information on this exploration, please see

Let us explore deeper what jigida as a bead means. To help us do this is an article first published in 2009 on Artspeaks drawing from a cultural view on mgbaji or jijida – that is beads worn around the waste by females for beautification and protection of the feminine context. The author, Glory Ikibah shows that African tradition attributes the wearing of waist beads to the definition of the waist, meaning that it helps a female to *hold* their figure or shape. A string of beads worn around the waist by African women can be said to be sacredly associated to their femininity and must be respected by all men. The jigida is a set of beads strung along a wire or cord, worn at the waist, traditionally by African women but today women the world over make the JIGIDA as the exclusive symbol of their femininity.

African tradition attributes the wearing of waist beads to the definition of the waist, meaning that it helps a female to *hold* their figure or shape. Wearing of beads around the waist inspires women to carve out a well-formed figure that is advantageous to her life. African custom is legitimate because young girls and women still want the shape and figure the jigida compliments and is one that men continue to long for and appreciate most. The waist beads show the sexuality of women with the aim of achieving the genuine womanliness and their ability to bear children. Before time girls are made to understand that wearing jigida or waist beads helps them achieve the roundness of the hips, the slimness of the waist, a long neck and voluptuous breasts that is the mark of a physically desirable woman. The waist beads can therefore be seen as an aspect of maturity and the strength of mind for women to be the best they can be. This helps differentiate the men from the women in today’s fashion and as such, every men would look further to finding a woman with the jigida.

Beads or jigida are worn under clothes traditionally by African women, waist beads have several different meanings. The meanings range from rites of passage, to enticing your husband to healing and rejuvenation. The art of adorning ones self has been practiced since the beginning of time. In Egypt, waist beads were called “girdles”. All the women wore them and it was a uniform for pre-pubescent girls without any sexual connotation. But usually servants or dancers wore them and are shown in wall relief’s wearing them and nothing else! In West Africa, waist beads have several names like Jel-Jelli, Jigida, Giri-Giri, Djalay Djalay or Yomba. They’re always worn under clothes. In Ghana women knew that waist beads helped form their body into a particular shape and adult women wear beads to sexually stimulate the male. In other parts of West Africa, women would wear waist beads with bells on them, and when they walked it would make a jingling noise. Dipping them in oil scented the beads. Some cultures in Africa and many Indian women use it as a tool to know when they are putting on weight. The tighter the beads become, you instantly know to slow down on the eating. As weird as it may sound it was a sign by young woman to show “potential mates” their fertility.

The jigida awakens the senses of the man because revelation of the jigida is restricted or rather limited to the bedroom or bath which means that the body or jigida is not to be exposed to other men and must or should not be visible to the public eye because it is supposed to be a part of the female body. It emphasizes a woman’s body, its beauty and its curves. Access to the jigida is private, only the person who shares the intimacy of the woman has the privilege to see it.”

Jigida is made with beads of various colors, plastic or metal, which has been an accolade to the African women both young, old and the unborn who lay bare their creative skills and put in to their families and communities. Originally, women would string sunflower nuts along a wire, before using beads some jigidas are made of red and black pearls which are supposed to be an embellishment of beauty. Wearing jigida is both aesthetic and cultural it continues to symbolize the attention that a woman gives her body equating it to the care she gives to her skin and hair. It also places of interest on some aspects of her body which is the essence of her beauty.

In some parts of Africa brides wear as many as fifteen strings of jigida on her waist, most of which are blood coloured, some are made up with a few black discs thrown in. The strings of the jigida clinked as she dances, behind the jigida covers all parts of her buttocks but in front, they lay string upon string from her navel to her genitals, covering the greater part and providing a dark shade for the rest. As she dances, the crowd cheers, her beauty radiates as her smiles sent an air of exuberance across to all present. The other maids who dance with her equally wear jigida but theirs are not as much and beautiful as that of the Bride.

Traditionally, pearls were therapeutic used to cure the illnesses of the kidneys (consequently the pronunciation of the hips), the health of the elderly or the aches and problems related to age. Pearls are also the ancestral protection of the gods; consequently a woman who wears the jigida is protected by her ancestors.

Beads are very good women should not be ignorant of it because it is of great importance and significance to womanhood. So they must be worn properly and for the right purpose, some wear beads that are meant for the neck on their waist, and some reveal what is meant for their husbands to every other man on the street.

Speaking to some males Tonye Sammie has this to say about beads “I like it, it thrills me and if my wife uses the tiny ones, white colour especially, I can even buy it for her because if a lady is walking and the waist beads move up and down, it draws my attention”.

In addition, Patrick Iroegbu says that it must not be forgotten to be mentioned that since the popularization of chieftaincy titles in Igbo society, the culture of wearing beads by all and sundry is in great vogue. It is culturally appealing to see Igbo people at Igbo cultural events and their show of competitiveness of wearing beads of fashionable dimensions both at home and in the diaspora. To dress up without full beads of a particular beauty and attraction is like dressing half way out there. Nevertheless, a full beaded person from the head, neck, chest, waist, hands and legs is complex. Yet it is adored, and indeed, hailed and appreciated as a marked icon of identity and culture. To bead, therefore, is to belong in the identity which culturally marked beads convey. Without question, symbolism of a culture like the Igbo is elegantly constructed on the rite and celebrations of jigida and other forms of iconographic representations.

To say the least, jigida culture has all the meaningful potential for attractive tourism interest. Therefore, let the jigida culture be invested in and captured on tourism as it has never before been shot at towards promoting economic, cultural and identity outcomes – indigenously and interculturally.

Note on the Referred Author:

Gloria Ikiba has been a TV producer and she is currently. She writes for a few magazines where she covers the art column. In her own words, she says “I read a lot and I love to write. I am currently the head of station for my company here in Abuja not forgetting that I have a first degree in Fine Arts art history major. Currently I work for the Centre for Contemporary Arts as an assistant curator.”