The Bead SiteHome>Beadmaking & Materials>Altering

Altering Glass Beads

Beads are altered for many reasons. The first reason to come to mind is aesthetic.
That is, people change beads because they look better that way. Sometimes it is done for practical purposes. However, at least in the West African context, altering has another purpose.

By altering European trade beads, the dealers (who usually do the work) are investing local energy into the beads. They are making the beads their own instead of a foreign intrusion into their culture.

There are two ways glass beads are commonly altered. One is a "hot" method, applying heat to the beads:

This is Elizabeth Bruce of Teshie House (a bead dealer's house) in Jamestown, Accra, Ghana. She is at least a third generation bead dealer. She has passed away since I took this picture in 1990, but her daughter carries on the tradition.

She is demonstrating how they make "cooked beads" called koli. European beads are put into this pot with some organic matter and cooked for about an hour over charcoal. Every once in a while the woman will check on them and stir them as sh goes about her regular household tasks.

From Where Beads Are Loved.

The finished koli beads. These were originally translucent and have been made opaque by the "cooking" process. They recall earlier, valuable kori (aggrey) beads. The striations along the side are not due to them being "pulled like taffy," as some have said. They are the air bubbles along the surface of the beads that have broken out in the heat.

The other and older way to alter beads is the "cold method." This is usually done by grinding. It has a long history and has been recorded from the early 17th century in both West Africa and the Americas. It is still done extensively in Africa. Examples are also known from Southeast Asia.


 Small Bead Businesses | Beading & Beadwork | Ancient Beads | Trade Beads
Beadmaking & Materials | Bead Uses | Researching Beads | Beads and People
Center for Bead Research | Book Store | Free Store | Bead Bazaar
Shopping Mall | The Bead Auction | Galleries | People | Events
The Bead Site Home | Chat Line | Contact Us | Site Search Engine | FAQ