A lively market in glass, stone, and amber beads--locally made
or imported from the north across the Sahara--has existed in Mali
for centuries. Some types of stone and glass beads are thought to
have protective qualities, and that is why you will often see small
children wearing a necklace or bracelet with a single bead. Most
women, however, buy beads for purely aesthetic reasons. Beads are
fashioned into bracelets that cover leather bands, are strung into
necklaces, and are woven into the hair on special occasions. Young
Sonraï and Fulani (Peuhl) women create elaborate beadwork coiffures
and wigs for weddings and other festivals. Brightly colored plastic
beads and those simulating amber have also made inroads into the
market; small plastic pendants in the shape of a Tuareg cross, which
are strung on necklaces or woven into the hair, are popular among
Tuareg and non-Tuareg women alike.
Women in Timbuktu (Tombouctou) have been making bracelets and necklaces
from gold-colored straw for generations. Popularly known as ATimbuktu
gold," the straw pieces are modeled on classical gold jewelry.
Women begin by building a three-dimensional form in beeswax and
then apply straw to create elaborate patterns.