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Africa Direct

31 Kiffa Powder Glass Beads Old Mauritanian Africa

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Title 31 Kiffa Powder Glass Beads Old Mauritanian Africa
Type of Object Powder glass over a core
Made In Beads made in Kiffa, Mauritania
Approximate Age Late 19th-Early 20th Century
Overall Condition Fair to 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 Pitting, 4 chipped beads, and dirt.
Bead Size 7-15 mm diameter. See picture with penny for size comparison.
Strand Length 11 inches of beads
Brand Unbranded
Style Beaded
Type Necklace

Additional information: 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.

The art of making traditional Kiffa beads is gone. Such beads were originally made in Kiffa, Mauritania. They were used as hair adornments by Kiffa women. Nodody is really certain of the age of this period of Kiffa bead making. Most of the experts in this field date it to the early 1900s through to the 1940s.

Traditional Kiffa beads were individually produced by hand, with a central core made out of various materials. This core was sometimes made from dark gray powdered glass and sometimes non-glass materials. Using a needle and spit, tiny portions of red or blue or yellow or white powdered glass were laboriously applied to the bead core. This was done over and over again until the beads were totally covered with this outer layer of powdered glass. The semi-finished beads were then "cooked" over outdoor open fires until the powdered glass fused.

By the end of the 20th century, the secrets of this traditional process had been lost.