As a Christian, I believe that seeking answers to the inevitable questions I have about my faith only brings me closer to God. Nonetheless, thinking deeply to find these answers causes me to swallow some hard truths. For example, the reintroduction of Christianity to Africa (particularly sub-Saharan Africa) having mainly occurred through the processes of colonisation and imperialism. Perhaps if these hadn’t occurred, many African countries would still be largely following the religions that they were following prior to European invasion. Would Africa have been better off that way? High religiosity works its influence on the macro-scale – e.g. contributing to a decline in a country’s economic development. But what about on the micro-scale? How has religion influenced our cultures in the 21st century?
I’ve recently been thinking about waist beads worn by African women, so I researched their significance as I knew so little about them. Online sources informed me that waist beads are traced back to the 15th century, potentially from North Africa. However, they were popularised in later centuries by the Yoruba people in Nigeria. Women were given waist beads at birth or puberty. They had healing qualities, as well as the potential to shape a woman’s waist. They brought about spiritual protection, as the beads’ colours represented things like longevity and fertility. Women would pierce materials such as glass and wood, then thread them onto the string. Also, charms were often added for protection, and to indicate a woman’s number of pregnancies. Intrigued by this, I told my mum that I wanted to get waist beads, but she was against it:
‘When the gods or an oracle say a female child isn’t likely to become a mother in the future, they tie something around her, close to her womb. They keep adding beads to it as she grows older, and the string gets tighter. They add charms to it to guarantee reproduction. Nowadays people use it to check their waistline. Why do you need that when you have a tape measure? At that time, they would dance, and the beads would bounce, and it was quite promiscuous. Even ankle chains, they originated from child mortality. The chain would tie the child down and stop them from dying.’