“Hey Malaka! What are the credentials for wearing Krobo waist beads?”
“Have a waist, I suppose. I dunno. I’m not Krobo.”
My younger cousin from my American side of the family was the one making this inquiry. She lives in Columbus, Ohio and to my knowledge, has never been out of the country. Now, she was asking me about waist beads…Krobo waist beads, specifically. What had piqued her interest in this particular region of Ghana?
Krobo is a small town in the Eastern Region of Ghana, and as far as I am concerned, is an enduring bastion of our fast-fading culture. Krobos are known for hot girls, hard work and elaborate beadwork. Still, the do not hold a monopoly on bead making/wearing in the region, so I was a bit miffed that my cousin did not inquire about Akuapem waist beads. I suppose it’s because Larteh people are more famous for their juju than their accessories.
My cousin’s inquiry gave me pause, and made me reminisce a little about my own waist beads. Even though I’ve worn traditional beads at some point in every stage in my life, I began wearing them consistently back in 2002 as a nod to our ancestral beauty practices. On a visit to Ghana in that time, several women of my parent’s generation were quick to share their disdain and disapproval for the presence of the beads around my waist.
“This is something villagers do,” one woman spat.
Ah, ah. It wasn’t her waist, and she didn’t buy them for me. I resisted the urge to spit back at her and roll my eyes, instead nodding like the “good African girl” my father silently implored me to be in public.
My favorite waist beads were crafted by an old woman who lived in Osu behind Kikiriki Kitchen. She had strung some for one of my best friends in colors and shapes I had never seen before. She even had 3 or 4 gold spun beads strung on the line, which had such an alluring and hypnotic effect that I have to confess that it was nothing but pure envy that took me on the perilous trek over a 20 foot wide gutter bridged on either end by a rickety piece of wood.
“Her beads are not cheap o,” my friend warned in advance. “She is a master bead maker.”
“Oh, it’s just beads. How expensive can it be?” I scoffed.
The elderly woman greeted us with the cool of a woman who had seen and done it all. A halo of curly grey hair crowned her round head. She was in no particular rush to service us. I liked and disliked her instantly.
“Where do you want your beads to sit?” she asked.
“Here,” I said, pointing to the top of my hip. “I want them to sit low.”
After I had been measured and fitted, the old lady named her price. I balked, but then I remembered that beads were once a unit of currency and a measure for one’s wealth and status in the community. I empty my wallet and stare imploringly at my friend. I think I still owe her money. It was well worth it though. I have always loved those beads.
It is those same beads digging into my torso today.
Yes, you heard that right: The beads that once sat demure and seductively across my hips are now cutting off my circulation around my rib cage, digging into my skin, causing me nightmares in my sleep. And it’s ALL my cousin’s fault! If she hadn’t gone poking her artsy, inquisitive nose into this aspect of our culture, I would have left this vainglorious past with my waist beads buried in the past! You see, I took the beads off in the middle of my first pregnancy and haven’t thought about them since. After Aya was born, I got another set that were strung on elastic, but I never considered them quite as beautiful as the ones I’d gotten in Osu so I stopped wearing them, too. But once my cousin asked about (Krobo) beads, I fished them out of my jewelry box, inhaled and slipped them over my head and breasts. Now they are STUCK.
I can’t believe how much my body has changed! The transformation has been radical, and not for the better. They always tell you how having kids changes your body, and I have accepted the man hairs on my chin and chest, the feet that have grown in both length and width…even the kangaroo pouch that is the hallmark of four C-sections. Am I now expected to accept that my torso in 2015 holds the same dimensions of my waist 15 years ago? Heaven forbid!
While trawling through Poka Arts’ images on Instagram, I came across two images that sum up my demise perfectly. No, no. Look! It will help you understand my struggle.
Me, before my first kid:
Yeah, I believe my body is a temple… but I pretty much eat whatever I want. It’s all good, because I work out 3-4 times a week and I play in a Gaelic football league. But you know, whatevs. Ooooh! Are you gonna eat the rest of your chocolate ganache? Can I have it? I’m going for a run later. No, silly! I don’t “diet”. I don’t need to. LOL!
Me, after all my kids:
Yeah, I believe my body is a temple. I try to eat a plant-based diet, primarily…but then I get super hungry and end up eating pizza for breakfast…and lunch. Look, I just like to eat pizza. It’s quick, it’s easy, and the kids like it too! I try to work out whenever I get the chance, but I’m usually busy stressing over the kids…which leads to more stress eating. Oooooh! Are you gonna eat the rest of that chocolate ganache? I have a PTA meeting coming up because one of the girls roundhouse kicked another kid on the playground. It’s okay. I’m going to cry myself to sleep later. Maybe the pain from my tears will mask the pain of these beads digging into my back…
Nevertheless, I was happy that I could at least get my favorite beads onto my body, even if they weren’t fitting me in as appealing a manner as they once did. I excitedly sent a picture to my sister, anticipating her approval and matched excitement.
“What is this?”
“These are my waist beads, Adj! I haven’t worn them in years.”
“Why do they look so tight?”
“…Because they are tight.”
“I don’t think our ancestors intended for them to look this way.”
“Look. Just be happy I can get them on, okay? You always outchea jackin’ up my high.”
She floods my inbox with celebratory emojis – illustrated applause, confetti and champagne glasses – and then goes silent. I hate my sister.I am looking miserable.
Marshall offers to lift my beads over my head if I would agree to simultaneously smash and lift my boobs so he can slide them over. I refuse. I hate the pain these beads have caused me, but I loathe the idea of them defeating me even more.
That’s all I have to say about that. Until memory becomes my reality, my rib cage beads and I remain ever yours!