The truth behind waist beads and why women wear them

The truth behind waist beads and why women wear them

When I was young, people who spotted dreadlocks were generally considered to be thieves and weed smokers. In fact, if you brought a friend whose head was merely shaggy home, your irate parents would tell you your thieving friend might make away with the family TV set.

Now grown and spotting some locks myself, I know, more than anything that I do not steal, neither do I smoke weed. At least not yet.

All these stereotypes arose because of misinformation. When people do not understand something, they come up with alternative explanations to fill in the gaps. Waist beads have been subjected to the kind of misinformation dread locks were subjected to back then – being associated with witchcraft and promiscuity among other diabolical allegations. But there is a more, culture-rich tradition behind them.

The truth behind waist beads

When a maiden was approaching marriage back in the days, she was assigned a chaperon – an aunt or an elderly woman- who became her mentor in matters marriage. The classes covered a range of things, from keeping her house clean to whipping up mind-blowing cuisines.

The chaperon also doubled up a sexpert who taught and guided her in bedroom matters. Such a person was referred to as ‘kungwi’ or ‘somo’ in the coast where this practice is rampant, and ssenga among the Baganda. Once a maiden completed her classes in some communities, she was awarded her first set of waist beads by her Kungwi. Other times her husband-to-be sent the waist beads prior to her wedding, and her kungwi would teach her how to use them before the wedding night. He would later on add more to the collection as he deemed fit.

Unlike today, a woman’s waist beads, how many they were, which one she wore and what they looked like was a heavily guided secret, only known to her and her husband. In fact, baring them for all to see would have earned you the beating of a lifetime from your grandmothers and elderly women.

Bead color and meaning

The waist beads also served as coded messages between spouses. Just by looking at the waist beads, the husbands would know whether their wives were ready to get down, had their menses or needed a shave. The red waist beads aptly denoted menses, the white beads were a green light for action and the black meant she needed to have her hair shaved.

Why do women wear them these days?

Most women wear waist beads because, why not? They hardly adhere to the set codes, let alone knowing of their existence.  Still, some are more specific in their need for waist beads, and their reasons include the following:


Most men get sexually aroused when they see a woman with a waistbead on. In Traditional African Society, when woman reached the ripe age for courting, they would wear specific waistbeads that produce a certain sound in that the ladies walked past a group of men, they would notice them, not just by how sensual the waistbeads made them look but by also the sound they made. In the current society, women wear them for sensuality. They claim that their men perform better in bed, thanks to that tiny ornament.


There are certain communities where women have been raised wearing them and so it represents their culture. Such communities include Nigerian, Sudanese and Ghanaian women.


Some women who are deeply rooted in spirituality associate certain waistbeads with the capacity to bring spiritual healing, peace and sanity into their lives. They also wear them during meditation. They claim it helps bring protection to their heart, body and soul and hence it is used against bad omen.


Women wear them to tone their bodies in such a way that their waists are synched. This hence gives their physique an admirable definition.


Waistbeads are also used to find out whether or not a woman has gained weight or if they are pregnant. So, the tighter they get, the more weight one has gained.


Women of different ages wear different waistbeads to show their age-group. Hence, when a woman is in the ripe age for marriage, men can easily identify them, hence differentiating them from the younger ones.


With the current fashion sense being so revolutionary, fashion houses all over the world have incorporated waistbeads into their statements. You get to see models rock them during major runways during fashion events.


Most women claim that they are more confident in their bodies when they have waistbeads on.


Most Indian women put them on during traditional Indian dances. The same applies to most African communities such as the Turkana.


Some people believe that some women wear them to perform some charms such as to win a certain man to herself or to chase away bad spirits.

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