Some of the earliest beads recorded include bone, teeth, and ivory beads. These materials are relatively soft and some, like fish and snake vertebrae had natural perforations. Stone, copper, and bronze tools could be used to carve and decorate bone beads.
Most modern bone beads come from cattle or water buffaloes, although fish and snake vertebrae have been popular as beads in West Africa. Long, smooth, cylindrical bone beads—called hairpipes—were used by Native Americans of the Great Plains to create breastplates that served as armor. Today they are seen mostly in dance regalia and used to make bracelets and chokers for adornment. In the Himalayan region where Buddhism and Hinduism stress the endless cycle of death and rebirth, some prayer strands were made of human skull bones, sometimes inlaid with coral or turquoise.
Batik bone beads are another distinct category of beads currently being made in Kenya, India and China. Carved bone and ivory beads have a long tradition in Kenya, China, India and many other parts of the world.
Kenya Beads are beads originating in the East African nation of Kenya. Kenya has a diverse culture consisting of as many as 42 different ethnic groups including the Nilotic Maasai people who are one of the better-known tribes. The major Kenyan populations can be classified as the Bantus, Nilotes, and Cushites. Beads play an important role in Kenya’s culture and are a widespread form of artistic expression. For example, among the Maasai, beads are often used as fashion accessories and may be found as earrings or other traditional ornaments for both women and men.
The Turkana people of northwest Kenya are one ethnic group that is especially known for its rich tradition of adornment including beading. They are Kenya’s third largest tribe. In Turkana society clothing is used to distinguish between different age groups, marital status, and economic position. Women often wear multicolored necklaces and also wear beads in their hair.