In most industrialized societies heirlooms are informal things, something nice passed between generations. In many traditional societies they are closely regulated because they ultimately belong to the whole group rather than to any one person.
The term "heirloom bead" has been widely employed, but they were never really studied until I investigated the heirloom beads of 14 traditional groups in Southeast Asia.
On The Bead Site is a page explaining the Basics of Heirloom Beads, a page of heirloom beads from the Kayan of Sarawak (East Malaysia on the Island of Borneo), the Bontoc of the northern Philippines, the Rungus of Sabah (East Malaysia) and the T'Boli of the southern Philippines (the last two written by Bucklee Bell).
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