Ostrich Eggshell Beads
"Pearls of the Kalahari"
The ostrich eggshell bead is the oldest known man-made bead. Archaeologists discovered ostrich eggshell beads and numerous other artifacts in the Loiyangalani River Valley, in Serengeti National Park in Tanzania. The beads have yet to be dated precisely, but are believed to have originated from the African Middle Stone Age - between 28,000 and 45,000 years ago.
Today, ostrich egg shell beads are still being made by the San Bushmen women of the Kalahari Desert. To the San Bushman, ostrich eggs are symbolic of good luck/good fortune. One egg would be a wonderful meal for a family group. The eggshell could be used to store water as a canteen and, of course, the broken eggshells were made into beads for trading, decoration and today, for income and self expression. Many of the women who make these beautiful exotic beads live in remote settlements far from any grocery store, clothing shop, or hospital. There are also no paying jobs where they live. The hand-crafting of these beads is the only means by which any of them can earn a cash income to supplement their existence based on gathering veld (bush) foods and herding a few goats.
Women's Work works directly with the San Bushmen women who still make these beads. Cecilia considers many of these women friends and it is due to these hard-working women that Women's Work was originally created.
How the beads are made:
The making of the beads is a long and laborious task.
1.) The first step is to break the ostrich eggshells into chips.
2.) Then each chip is made round by a springbok horn or nail clippers-whichever is readily available.
Photo courtesy of Kuru Family of Organizations
Next, a hole is started in each chip with a hand-drill then punched through
with a small awl.
4.) Next the drilled chips are strung and laid across a wooden board. 5.) Using a whetstone, the chips are hand polished. The strings are wet, rubbed, then, wet some more. Through this tedious and strenuous task the rough chips are transformed into lovely luminous beads.
Click above to watch a short clip of Dinah Bob and friends at Dqae Qare Game Farm making ostrich egg shell beads. As you can see, these activities are commonly carried out in small groups allowing for socialization and communal child care.
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