Africa Direct
Africa Direct

31 Kiffa Powder Glass Beads Mauritanian

AvailabilityIn stock
Special Price $666.00 Regular Price $899.00
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Type of Object Powder glass over a core
Made In Kiffa, Mauritania
Approximate Age Late 19th-Early 20th Century
Overall Condition Fair to good. Some of our beads have traveled at least three continents, and have graced numerous owners.
Damage/Repair Pitting, 4 chipped beads, and dirt.
Bead Size 7-15 mm diameter. See picture with penny for size comparison.
Strand Length 11 inches of beads
Brand Unbranded
Style Kiffa
Type Strand of Beads

Kiffa beads, a type of rare powder glass beads, were first documented in 1949 by French ethnologist R. Mauny in the Mauritanian city of Kiffa. These beads showcase remarkable artistic skill and creativity, as they are made using basic materials and tools such as pulverized European glass beads, bottle glass, pottery shards, tin cans, twigs, steel needles, gum arabic, and open fires.

The name "Kiffa bead" was coined by bead collectors in the United States during the 1980s, in reference to the old bead making centers in Kiffa. According to Peter Francis, Jr., the practice of making powder glass beads in West Africa may date back several hundred years, and even as early as 1200 CE in Mauritania. These beads are thought to be modeled after older Islamic beads made in Fustat and elsewhere.

Despite the apparent ancient tradition of making Mauritanian powder glass beads, no archaeological evidence has been discovered to establish their age so far.During the 1970s, the last of the remaining traditional bead makers passed away, resulting in the extinction of Kiffa bead crafting. However, since the early 1990s, organized groups of women bead makers have revived the craft by using similar traditional methods. Despite these efforts, the quality and craftsmanship of the new beads have not been able to match the high standards of the old beads.

Although Western artists have attempted to create their versions using polymer clay or lampworked glass, their modern creations do not come close to the beauty of the traditional specimens. The same can be said for modern imitations made in other countries, such as Indonesia.