Bauxite Beads produced from Iron Ore in a small village in Ghana.
“100 km N of Accra lies a village Akyem Abompe. At the first sight it looks like other modern Ghanaian villages, where the network of streets reveals a great degree of planning and most inhabitants are dressed European way.
Though the village is rather exceptional. It is a unique center of bead production where practically each family is maintaining themselves through manufacture of beads.
The organization is rather flat. There are no leaders or chiefs mobilizing labor and distributing the goods. There are just producers and sales women. And yet the beautiful bead necklaces can reach as far as to the shops of New York . ”
The range of bauxite bearing hills (Begoro Plateau), where the raw material is being mined. The hills are also the abode of the guardian spirit of the village, protecting the area but also helping to regulate mining activities. There is a general understanding of the danger of over-exploitation.
Bauxite is a naturally found aluminum hydroxide, rich in iron, which gives it reddish color. In other parts of the world it is a main resource for aluminum production.
The skillful artisans of the village transform these clay-like lumps into shiny beads.
Different stages of production are divided between community members. On certain days, early in the morning a group of miners sets for the mountains to get the raw material. It takes up to 3 hours to overcome some 6 km of steep mountain paths.
The miners sell the lumps of raw material to people in the village. Each family member is acquainted with the full process of bead production, but usually it is divided between the family members to increase the efficiency of production.
Even the youngest children have the knowledge and coordination skills needed for production of beads.
First the lumps are crushed into smaller pieces, which then are formed with a knife. Just like flaking of flint, bauxite is being formed by indirect and direct percussion method.
All the tools used in production are produced by villagers, which specialize in that. Knifes are made of worn-out machetes.
Next step in the process – to drill a whole through the formed pieces. It is said that younger people specialize in producing small and tiny beads, while elderly people make bigger ones.
Perforation is made with the help of a bow and a spindle drill – a wooden stick pointed with metal. While drilling, the top of the wooden stick is held in a cartridge-case where it freely rotates and does not damage the hands.
Perforated pre-forms are thread together on metal strings. Metal strings are obtained from worn-out lorry-tire rims.
A bunch of metal strings with pre-forms are then polished on a grinding stone. Water and fine sand are added to enhance the effect. As a result the beads become rounded and obtain the same breadth.
Still dull colored bauxite beads are thread together on extremely strong strings obtained from raffia-palm. Treatment with oils enhances the color of the beads and gives them shiny appearance.
The most beautiful are said to be the ones, which have been worn for a while and have absorbed natural human oil and sweat.
Bauxite beads are used for making necklaces, bracelets, waste rings and ankle ornaments. Symbolic meaning is added to pendants. The most favored motifs today are the key, the cross, the moon, the cacao and the ritual stool.
Special occasions may also demand the use of specific bead colors. Fx., during child-naming ceremonies nursing mothers and their babies are adorned with white or gray bauxite beads. These colors signify newness and vitality.
A newly born child is also adorned with bauxite beads to signify its formal acceptance into the society.
All creative energy culminates at the sales moment. And the villagers are the best at it… With their persuasive abilities they could make one buy a dead cat. But the real business starts at the markets of Accra and other major cities of Southern Ghana . On a regular basis the production is being collected by itinerant traders predominantly women, which then sell the beads from their booths.
The villagers have been complaining that the turnover during the last years has declined for few of the selling women have died.”