Kiffa Bead

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Object Name: 
Kiffa Bead
Accession Number: 
Overall H: 2.4 cm, W: 1.4 cm
Not on Display
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.
Harris, Elizabeth, Source
Primary Description: 
Bead. Opaque white, yellow, deep blue, red, black; powdered glass technique. Triangular pendant with deep blue core, five "eye" motifs and bands of stripes.