I suppose “african waist beads” is the politically correct term, but among Peace Corps volunteers they’re known to us by only one name: sexy beads. These beads are worn on the hips and underneath clothing. They are only meant to be seen by one other person to seduce/arouse them: the husband. The closest American equivalent would be a thong. No, the beads are not worn like a thong, but when a Beninese male sees a woman’s beads, it’s about the same thing as when an American male sees a woman’s thong. The biggest cultural difference is that you (if you aren’t the husband) never see a woman’s beads unintentionally. Plenty of women and girls will show me their beads, but never have I seen them accidentally peeking out. They have to be dug out for me to see them. However I can’t even begin to number the amount of underwear I’ve seen peeking out of pants, shorts, and skirts in America…
By the way, here’s a good article by Bilphena Yahwon: http://africaisdonesuffering.com/2013/02/waist-beads/
Waist beads can also be worn for seduction. For some, the beads posses intimate appeal and can provoke desire. Yoruban women are said to have laced their beads with charms and fragrances that were known to be irresistible to the opposite sex. Some women wore different shapes of beads and only wore them during intimacy as a means of enhancing the sexual experience of her and her husband. The beads to some women are what lingerie is to modern women. Wives would often lure their husbands with the rattle of the beads or use them as a means to communicate their fertility at certain times of the month.
Which is why you shouldn’t wear them around your neck. Because that would be like wearing lingerie around your neck. That isn’t sexy, it’s just plain strange. So be prepared for some stares if you decide to wear sexy beads around your neck.
I’ve tried asking why infants wear them, and if the beads serves any purpose, but I’ve gotten no explanation except for “c’est comma ça.” It’s just the way it is. The reason is probably buried in history but nobody knows it anymore.
The little boy before wouldn’t keep the beads on so I gave the beads to another baby instead. I am going stray a bit off topic but I think it’s worth mentioning. Note two things in this photo. Who is holding the infant? The mother? No. A child. Most likely the sister. Here, children take care of children. The mother might have six kids but you can be sure the 4 year old will have the 2 year old on his/her back, the 7 year old will be feeding the 5 year old, etc. Mothers here don’t hire nannies or become overworked, they simply teach their kids how to take care of their siblings so everybody isn’t relying on just the mother. The second thing to note is the infant’s diaper. That’s not huggies or pampers, that’s a piece of folded cloth. Fold it up, wash when dirty, and reuse. Simple, isn’t it?
If the beads are of different colors, they can be worn as bracelets without strange looks. You won’t see solid colored strands on the wrist, and you won’t see multicolored strands on the hips. These little details and rules of dress are what defines a culture.
I’ve combined the Laurel with Project 11 from I am Cute Dresses: Dress #11, I am Tiny Tucks. I’ve wanted to do the beading on this dress for a while, but not the dress itself. I mean… look at it. It’s very shapeless but there’s nothing wrong with that. What is wrong, however, is the description from the book: “The silhouette is slimming, thanks to the darts at the high waistline.” What. What! Is this a mistranslation? How is this slimming? Or am I not seeing something correctly?
Once I feel confident enough, then I start working on the real one. By the way, my order was 1) sew Laurel front and back pieces, omit zipper but add pockets 2) add beading 3) add sleeves 4) finish edges.
Once that’s done it’s time to add the bias tape binding. I was a bit worried about how close the beads were to sewing machine needle, but it turned out fine. Binding the neckline was a bit difficult. At first I added the bias tape straight on, not realizing that the edge was no longer the same length as the rest of the collar, which ended up making my edge “stand up” with lots of neck gape. Sorry I’m not familiar with sewing vocabulary to properly explain this. I removed the bias tape, stitched a gathering line then gathered the edges to make them shorter.
But I still had some poof in the back so I added a small pleat in the back to reduce the back neck gape. To reduce bulk next time, I will finish the edge with bias tape after I pleat it. Here the pleat was made after I added bias tape so it is bulky.
I’m out, seeya!
Pattern: Colette 1025 Laurel
Fabric: Secondhand blue sheets