Kiffa Bead

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Object Name: 
Kiffa Bead
Accession Number: 
86.3.108-1
Dimensions: 
Overall H: 2.4 cm, W: 1.4 cm
Location: 
Not on Display
Date: 
about 1985
Credit Line: 
Gift of Elizabeth Harris
Web Description: 
In Mauritania, a unique form of beads is made by women, using the wet-core powder glass method. They are called Kiffa beads, after the city in which they are produced. The process for making Kiffa beads may have originated as early as the eighth century, although the style created today probably began in the 19th century. The beads held an important spiritual value both for their makers and for their society, and only a few of them could be produced at one time because of their intricate construction. They were made largely for family and friends. The designs signified the makers’ beliefs, and the beads were imbued with power to protect the wearer. The triangular shape, as seen in this example, was made, without a mold, on two crossed pieces of grass, to which the core of powdered glass and a binder (usually saliva or gum arabic) were attached. The intricate decoration was created with a mixture of various colors of pulverized glass and a binder, applied with needles to the core, then fired. Other shapes include diamonds, cones, and spheres (e.g., 86.3.108-5). The knowledge of how to make these beads was rapidly disappearing after the 1970s, and their production almost ended. However, their popularity abroad led to their reappearance, and they continue to be made in the traditional methods.
Department: 
Provenance: 
Harris, Elizabeth, Source
Category: 
Primary Description: 
Kiffa Bead. Opaque white, yellow, deep blue, red, black; powdered glass technique. Triangular pendant with an opaque red core, seven "eye" motifs with, on sides, bands of chevrons.
Venue(s)
Corning Museum of Glass
For 30,000 years, mankind has crafted beads from natural materials. With the discovery of glassmaking in the second millennium B.C., glass began to be used for this same purpose. Glass beads are universal. They have been produced throughout the 35 centuries of glass manufacturing, and by nearly every culture in the world. The glass beads and beaded objects on view in this exhibition are arranged thematically, comparing the manner in which diverse cultures have utilized beads, frequently for the same purposes, but sometimes for unique reasons. These themes explore how glass beads adorn the body and our possessions; how they convey messages about power and wealth, and identify the stages of human life; how they serve ritual purposes, as well as decorate clothing and objects used in rituals; and how they have been employed across the centuries as a means of exchange, both commercial and cultural. Through the centuries, beads have been made using a variety of processes. Understanding how beads were made has allowed scholars to follow the transmission of beads and beadmaking techniques across the globe. Across time and around the world, glass beads have become a common element of mankind. Through their manufacture and function, they are one of the strings that bind humanity together. “Life on a String” celebrates this common bond while also revealing the distinctiveness of different societies through their use of glass beads to celebrate their unique cultural heritage.
'Miniature masterpieces' on display at glass museum (2013-05-19) illustrated, p. 9a;
Glass Beads: Selections from The Corning Museum of Glass (2013) illustrated, p. 67, no. 42; BIB# 134720
Beads: 3500 Years of Glass Beads (2013) illustrated, p. 12 (fig 17, bottom); BIB# AI93926