|Title||2 BIG Brass Beads Nigeria Africa Old Loose|
|Other Names||Brass or Copper Alloy beads necklace|
|Type of Object||handmade brass beads|
|People||Yoruba or neighbors|
|Approximate Age||early to mid 1900s?|
|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||Scratches, some oxidation, casting flaws, dents.|
|Bead Size||36-37 mm wide, 47-51 mm long, 30-32 mm p-p|
Large handmade brass (or copper alloy) beads.
Africa has been home to an active metalworking industry for 6,000 years, reaching back to the ancient Nubians and Egyptians who crafted artifacts in gold and copper. Ironworking was introduced by the Phoenicians around 800 BCE, and spread gradually across the continent to the Kingdom of Axum, then west to the Nok civilization and along the Atlantic coast. The metal was used to produce weapons, tools, amulets and other magical objects, and blacksmiths came to occupy a special position in society: respected and feared for their powers of metamorphosis. To this day, many West Africans will not look a blacksmith directly in the eye.
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.
Adapted from our comprehensive guide to African-made beads, African Beads: Jewels of a Continent, hardcover, 216 pages, 163 color photographs, available from Africa Direct.
For more information on brass beads in Nigeria read the same book African Beads: Jewels of a Continent, p. 116-122