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What a Bunch of Sweeties

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I first came across these beautiful coloured glass beads a number of years ago in the most unlikely of places, a small,  rural, outback, Australian town. Wonders never cease! The owner, a hippy and longtime adventurous traveller had the pleasure of trading directly with the natives at a local market in Mali, West Africa. Knowing my opportunities of African travel were a long way down the track, but still lusting after the beautiful 'sweeties', lucky for me the owner agreed to part with them. I was captivated by their size, shape, gorgeous colours and wonderful name. I just had to learn more.

'Mali Sweeties' were made in Bohemia from the 1800 to 1900's. They were used as collectible currency by trade merchants from Europe. Like many African trade beads, these multicolored, bulb shaped, glass beads were originally made in Czechoslovakia and later traded to Africa.They are worn by the 'Fulani' women of Mali. They are traditionally presented and worn by the bride on her wedding day. Often they are referred to as Wedding beads. Other names are 'Mali Sweeties', glass sweeties and 'Don Don Sole' beads. I was told that the "don don sole" name is an African word for drum stick based on the shape, haven't been able to confirm that with research to date.

They have a variety of shapes and sizes including triangular, octagonal, teardrop, crescent and light bulb. These wonderful trade beads have survived over a century of exchange and travel and as a result their patina is definitely a big part of their charm. They feature signs of wear and age and often have a pitted texture. Their bulbous shape is very appealing.

So what's not to love about 'sweeties'. I'm having fun playing around with them in the studio today, so stay tuned for the finished product.

Some examples of the Fulani wearing their tribal jewels. 

And yes, those amazing earrings are gold!



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