HEBRON BEADS – Nestled snugly beneath the ancient city of Jerusalem, Hebron has gained notoriety in recent years as a place of civil unrest, and clashes of faith. It’s certainly not a city you’d associate with thriving glass-blowing factories, and a world-class art movement. Yet from as early as the 18th Century – Hebron (El Khalil) was a major player in African trade, shipping an exhaustive supply of glass beads to Africa in order to source slaves, furs and oil from native tribes.
The earliest known written record, detailing the production of Hebron Beads (such as those we have here at The Bead Chest) was from an English traveler known as William George Brown in 1799. He documented briefly, a thriving industry of glass-blowing and wound glass production, that gave birth to the course Hebron bead variants – Hershe and Munjir. “Hershe” refers to the smaller format, while “Munjir” could realize sizes of up to 6cm! Then, as now, the aesthetics were course and opaque – sometimes even taking on a free-form appearance, due to the training of new artisans (whom did not naturally have the steady hand required for careful work.)
Of course, we are aware that Hebron had begun shipping glass beads in order to commence trading partnerships, however what is less known, is the routes by which these African trade beads traveled – and how they came known to be “Kano Beads“, when the Northern Nigerian state capital has no history of wound glass bead production.
From the 1800′s, trading routes opened up along the Nile, connecting Egypt with Sudan and Ethiopia in the North East of Africa. For over a century, Hebron Beads would become a staple currency by which to do business throughout Africa – but as with many of the popular trade beads, Hebrons too began to lose favor by the 1930′s. Of Africa’s trading regions, Nigeria in particular proved to be one of the most active. As a result, a large influx of Hebron Beads occurred during the height of the trade era. No longer of monetary value; the Bauchi and Zaria tribes began realizing the versatility of Hebron Beads for adornment – especially ritualistic.
There was just one problem…
Hebron Beads, when strung upon sisal would not sit in a uniform fashion. Appearance being of great importance to the tribes-people – they came up with a solution, that involved the filing of Hebron Beads to flatten the rounded ends. Result! They sat almost perfectly! It would be this solution that influenced the renaming of Hebron Beads to “Kano Beads”, and the Nigerian capital mistakenly being affiliated with their production.
Today, a small revival of Hebron Bead production does exist within Nigeria – artisans using recycled glass, and natural dyes to color their beads. The overall physical likeness has made them practically indistinguishable from their old trade counterparts – although the beadiest of eyes can tell. Can you? Take a look at our collections of Hebron Beads/ Kano Beads here at The Bead Chest and see for yourself!!