Words by Koura-Rosy Kane
Ornaments have always been part of African cultures. Around Africa, a multitude of traditions related to jewels are co-existing. The first jewel on this vast continent is estimated to be 40 000 years old. Besides having a technical capacity to create unique pieces, African jewels are gathering a lot of symbolism and social codes. Before the colonial epoch, they were used to communicate specific social status. During slavery, they were a way to survive as they were traded for food and clothing. According to shapes and colours, ornaments can deliver messages only understandable by members of a certain community. Although this traditional approach is still celebrated by contemporary jewels designers today, the modern perceptions of jewels in African societies are no longer tied to social requirements. As many cultural products – conditioned and manipulated by social actors – jewels are vessels able to translate the vision and perceptions of communities at a specific time.