Throughout history, in cultures across the world, beads have had a huge number of functions. Here are a few interesting facts.
Just like medals, ribbons and certificates, many ancient and modern-day cultures use beads to show bravery and accomplishment. They have long been used to protect warriors from natural and supernatural enemies, along with lending special magical protection for heroes during long journeys.
They have served many practical purposes throughout history, from weighing down scrolls, saddle blankets and table cloths to serving as calculators (like the abacus) to prayer tools (like the rosary). Today, we see beads in mats, car seats, and curtains. Can you think of any ways that people use beads today?
Beads have been traded for everything from gold to beaver pelts, ivory to spices, and even slaves. Societies across the world have made beads from tortoise shells, wood, pottery, sea shells, seed, ivory, stone, egg shells, animal teeth, bone, claw and horn…and glass. Some of the world’s most talented glass artists devote their whole careers to making beads.
In many societies, beads are believed to carry protective and healing powers
Did you know that the Egyptian word sha means “luck” and sha-sha means “bead”? The Magical Eye bead of Turkey is believed to ward off evil. In parts of Asia, beads were scattered like seeds at temples to induce bountiful harvests.
In China, during the Qing (pronounced “ching”) Dynasty, officials, army officers, their wives and children were required to wear strings of court beads. The Emperor himself had to wear special beads. For the Asante people of West Africa, kings and other great people get the privilege of wearing Bodom beads. In our own society beads of pearl, gold and precious stones can be symbols of wealth and prestige.
Given the length of time people have been fascinated with beads (over 43,000 years!), as well as their usefulness for counting, adorning and symbolizing importance, they’re just right for recognizing and recording your courage as you travel this journey.