Re: Hishi Materials
Re: materials used for heishi beads -- lindabd Post Reply Edit Forum Where am I?
Posted by: Beadman Post Reply
05/15/2018, 01:38:52

The red stone is bauxite, made into beads in Ghana. It is an ore of aluminum, also sometime called "volcanic ash." (I have never known why.) It's identification as "pipestone" is an error. In the 1980s, when a lot of African beads were being used by Americans for "Indian hobby" and Rendezvous purposes, African bauxite was routinely misidentified as "pipestone"—which is an indigenous clay-like mineral native to Minnesota, that was used by Native Americans for making smoking pipes. The color of pipestone is different, being more brownish-red, and usually having distinct white or more-pale spots. One of the nice things about pipestone (because it's a clay) is that it's initially fairly soft and easy to carve, but hardens over time to become more durable.

Among white African hishi beads, the more common ones were made from a terrestrial snail. The shell pieces are usually slightly concave (most apparent when the diameters are big), and the convex side often has brick-red or brownish stripes (these being the external decoration of those snails). The shells of land-snails tend to be softer and more easily damaged than we find with marine mollusks.

Ostrich eggshell is one of the oldest known bead materials, and in the living tradition usually comes from South Africa. The beads are typically chipped into shape, and it's not uncommon that the circumference is somewhat out-of-round. The perforations may not have a regular cylindrical channel-shape, but tend toward being wider at the apertures. These shell piece also have an "inside" and "outside, and a slightly concave shape. They are smoother on the convex outside. There is also a spotty grain to this shell, that is absent in Mollusk shells. Your beads appear to be ostrich eggshell.

The other shell hishi beads you show appear to be from marine mollusks. These are often two different colors—the inside of the shell having a lining (sometimes white or pale), while the outside layer may be colorful. I would be inclined to doubt these are African. The Philippines would be a more-likely origin. However, in recent years, I suspect the Chinese have begun to make similar products.

Finally, among African beads, there are large-diameter hishi beads made from white clam shell, that, since the 1970s, were routinely called "hippo teeth" or "hippo ivory." I have not seen much of these quite beautiful and well-made beads in recent years. Looking carefully at the flat surface, the pattern is clearly that of a bivalve shell, very different from any ivory.


Modified by Beadman at Tue, May 15, 2018, 22:01:13

© Copyright 2018
All rights reserved by Bead Collector Network and its users