Waist bead is universal in African culture. From East to West to South and North Africa, there are different versions of waist bead before the arrival of the colonists.
It is a cultural representation of fertility, beauty, and virtue in African women.
In Igbo land, waist beads formed an integral part of the Igbo culture. There were existing ones in the form of copper. I saw it once from a woman who took osiahụ title in my village. She died when I was still a kid. I knew of another woman called Mgborie Eze. She was a titled woman too in my village. She had different forms of waist beads especially the one called “jigida”.
Traveling around Igbo land, I visited older women, even those in the northern Igbo (Nsụka Zone) I was shown their jidiga and other forms of waist bead used in the olden days.
I met my grandmother’s jigida too. In the olden days, jigida was part of the requirements for marriage. As we have a list now and requirements for marriage, jigida must be there, if not, it’s incomplete.
It was a great ornament used for beautification. Aside from this, waist beads are a symbol of feminism, fertility, sensuality, and the spiritual well-being of women.
It is not only for Igbo culture but all the African countries observe this culture. In Ghana, Sierra Leone, etc waist beads are graciously honored.
Igbo women in the past wore anklets too. Our ancestors wore all these things. They are not new. There were nja worn by Igbo women of the past. This nja was in the form of an anklet but it’s copper.
Now, about the waist beads of today. Many have argued that waist beads our women are using today are not the same as the ones our mothers of old wore. I ask the same people, the clothes you wear today, are they the same as the ones our ancestors wore? Culture is dynamic. It changes over time. The dynamism of culture gives room to Innovations and creativity. You see why you shouldn’t expect our women of the 21st century to wear the same bead as women of the 19th century.
Waist bead is not new to Igbo society. It was there. Ask your grandparents questions about jigida. It was a prerequisite for marriage in the past. A man who buys jidiga for his wife is bound to be loved whole soul. Women adore such men. Our grandmothers wore it. But they tell you it is a sin now.
My people, waist bead is not bad, but your mentality influenced by many years of religious indoctrination made this beautiful aspect of our culture look alien. Of course, most jigida were imported from the northern part of the country. If you point this out to claim that waist bead (jigida) was strange to Igbo people, how about isi agụ or isi ọdụm even red cap…don’t you know they were imported too?
As men use these attires to beautify themselves, domesticate them, and assimilate them as part of Igbo culture, the same thing goes with waist beads. All the titled women in the past wore different versions of it. This and uri were basic aspects of women’s makeup in Igbo land.
Granted, the dynamism of culture, time, and season played also a negative role in the minds of some women of this generation. The borrowed culture of the quest for power, and being in control has plunged many into using fortified waist beads in the form of juju.
It wasn’t so in the past. Waist bead was just for beauty. Some use it to weigh their size, to know when they have added weight. But today, borrowed culture has made mechanics confuse us from recognizing mad people.
Anything short of that is mere fashion just as it had been.