|Title||Brass Hair Bead Old Burkina Faso Africa|
|Type of Object||Lost wax cast brass or copper alloy|
|Made In||Burkina Faso|
|Approximate Age||Early 20th century|
|Overall Condition||Good. Some of our beads have traveled at least three continents, and have graced numerous owners. Small chips, corrosion, and pitting are a normal part of their patina attesting to their age and extensive use.|
|Damage/Repair||Wear, tarnish, casting flaws|
|Bead Size||14-17 mm diameter, 47 mm p-p. See picture with penny for size comparison.|
Additional information: Although they can be found in a number of West African countries, brass beads like these are most popular in Niger, where young Wodaabe women adorn their long hair with these handsome handcast ornaments. Once a year, up to three thousand Wodaabe come together to celebrate the Geerewol festival, a time for young men to dress in their best finery in order to attract a mate. The women also present themselves in their own most beautiful clothing and jewelry and judge the young men as they dance and do their best to impress their audience.
For ages, brass and gold African beads have been made using the “lost wax method.” First a model of the object is made from beeswax, then dipped repeatedly in a solution of fine ash or charcoal powder mixed with water. This forms a mold, or “crucible,” which is allowed to dry and harden. In the case of beads with fine strings in their design, a syringe is used to produce the long, thin wax pieces which are then wrapped around charcoal to leave a hole during the heating process. As the molds harden, channels are left in them to enable the wax to drain out during the heating process which takes place in a kiln. As the wax melts and is “lost”, molten brass or gold is poured into the mold to form the bead or ornament. When the metal has cooled, the molds are broken open and cleared away and the new art object is thoroughly cleaned and shined before it is presented to the world. In some cases the final product is gilded for an especially rich finish.
For more information, please see our comprehensive guide to African-made beads, African Beads: Jewels of a Continent, hardcover, 216 pages, 163 color photographs, available from Africa Direct.