Kiffa beads in Mauritania
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Posted by: papa2000 Mail author
04/23/2007, 05:54:42

Kiffa beads in Mauritania

The beads called kiffa are usually handmade in différent city in the south of mauritania. The Mauritania is an islamic country in the north west of africa. It is bordered by the Atlantic ocean on the west, by Morocco and Algeria on the north, by Mali on the west and by Senegal on the south.

The glass bead could be find in Mauritania when the commercial roads of Ghana Empire grown. All along these road, the trade begin between the traders and the different people around. So, lot of kind of ancient beads, importe from the middle cast or egyptian glassworks, were found on different antiques places : Tegdaoust, Kumbi saleh (supposed capital of Ghâna empire), walatta, etc..........

Historycally the city of kiffa is known as the principal beadmaking center of kiffa beads. This city is near the kumbi salem ruins. From this ruins, women take ancient beads that they use as kiffa beads models. You can find other beadmaking center in Tichitt, Akreijit, Oualatta. Mauny said, these center was existed to saint louis in Senegal.
In 1949, the archeologist R.MAUNY described for the first time the kiffa beads. The handmaking of these beads should begun in the 19 th century.
The beadmaking in kiffa continu till the seventy's. At this time, there was only some old women who make these beads. The Mauritanian didn't care about. In the 80's, foreigner collector began to be interest about these beads, and the beadmaking start again.
The new kiffa beads hadn't the same technic quality than the older. The surface is more granulous, the drawing is less thin and rich... But the quality improve ! Before leaving Senegal, we saw somevery nice new kiffa beads. These new kiffa beads are made only for financial and not spiritual reasons. In that way the kiffa beads could lost their richess.

It existe 6 kind of shape :

- Triangulars
- Rounds
- Conicals
- Lozenge
- Hemispheric
- Cylindrical

The triangular:

The triangular kiffa beads are named locally "selkrass" and "bouzrem". This shape is an innovation. These beads are used as a ornament in the mauritanian women hairs. Triangular kiffa beads are traditionally worn in grouping of three at leval egal to the temples. There is always one blue, one polychrome bead and one red. You can find a single polychrome bead is sewn onto a band of cloth and is closed in on either side first by un ancient blue glass bead called "nila" and then by round jasper bead (or cornelian).

There is 3 category of triangular beads

- The polychromes
- The blues with or without motifs
- The reds

The triangular polychrome bead had different zig-zag or chevron pattern with eyes or triangles. The blue could be plain or with some white spots. You can find some rare bead with chevron motif or some colored spots (yellow, red). In new triangular blue beads, you can find some in plastic. we have found one. The triangular red beads are plain, you can also find some of them are in plastic.

The round :

Called “terliza” you find usually these beads in necklelaces. If the round bead is enought big, it could be used in a groups of beads as we saw upper.

The cylindrical:

Now, is exceptionnel to find some of them in an all piece. They are oftenly cut in 2 or3 pieces ; Bead merchant make more benefit. The drawings of this bead are very various. They are different inflluences, we will see foward.

The conical :

They are called “ koust el arf” which liberally translated, means “imitation of the unique”. The legend tell thaaat the first one was made by the prophet Soulleiman. The other name are “masnoura” or “nourakad”. The axe of the holes can have two ways: vertically through the top. Horizontally through the bead near the base. The conical beads are polychrome. They string them on a leather strips in the hair.
The lozenge :

They are locally called “habbel m’nersa” or “metva”. They are usually weared in a bracelet attached on a piece of cloth. There is 3 types : all blue with white line motifs on top red with no decoration. Red, white, yellow and black described by Mauritanian women as “shell of the turtle”.

The hemispheric :

They are quiet rare and the drawing look like to the polychromatic lozenges. Some are blue with white spots and some are plain white.
The Archeologist R. Mauny, describe the method used to fabricate a triangular kiffa bead.

Use ordinary glass, reduce it to a fine powder. Mix it with saliva and few gum arabic. You obtaint a paste which one is used to shape a bead. Make a support by fastening two blades of stiff grass together in a form of a cross. Place the paste onto the grass support and work a triangular form. You smooth the paste with a razor blade and you let it drying. Then, you have an white opaque shape where you can put your motif.
You transform different kind of colored glass in powder and mix each colored powder with saliva and gum arabic. Apply these to the grayish core using a needle. Using different kind of colored pastes, you create the drawing of the bead. On a thin flat piece of metal, covered with small amount of cleaned and moistened sand and allow it to dry. Make a fire with glowing red embers. Put the plate with the bead on it and cover with a metal box to create an enclosed oven. Cover with embers. Bake for about 40 minutes.

It exist some variant of this technique. An example the Oualatta beadmaking. You use existing beads or piece of glass where you create the drawing as describe upper. In this case, the burning time is only 12 minutes, just time to make the surface melt, so the different part of the drawing are blend.
For the old time, the bead more their esthetic value, have a magic power. They must protect their owner against the bad eye. The good eye protect against the bad eye.

For example the triangular shape come from a stylized eye representation. The motifs and the colors intensify the bead powed. On the polychrome kiffa bead we find eyes (the round or the blue triangular motifs ) surrounded with the zig-zag, indicates the path of running water or the “path of live”.

The colors symbolic meaning :
Gray (core) : the molar of a maid servant.
White : a pure young girl.
Yellow : symbol of affability.
Blue : benediction of heaven.
Red : Color of Mediterranean coral

Colors combined with certain geometric form : Light blue circle: the infinite universe
Green circle : hope (of rich)
Yellow circle : The sun

In the drawing of kiffa bead, you can see different influences. First, the influence of the ancient bead find in the grownd, you recognize the motifs an the colors. Then the influence of the italian beads.

The Mauritanian women wear these beautifull and magical beads which valorize and show their expertise.

Differents Kiffa beads and necklaces

Click on the pictures


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