CORRECTION: #08: The Coloniality Chronicles – Part Four

In which I explain the significance of beads...

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[Image description: Text ‘The Coloniality Chronicles Part Four’ on a navy blue background with a lilac paintbrush stroke highlighted segment]

Yaw, Afua and Ama

He placed his calloused fingertips in the dip between the bones at her wrist, and ran them across the smooth scar tissue that had formed there each time the boiling stew had spat at her, while she stirred the pot.

He covered her with soft kisses and ran his tongue back and forth over its smoothness. He pressed his body to hers and she felt him rise against her.

Afua fetched her mat. With a single flick, she rolled it out onto the floor and knelt.

She guided his head down, passed her stomach, passed her hips, and uncrossed her legs. He placed one hand onto the cool, hard mud of the hut wall, while the other massaged her buttocks, the colourful strings of beads at her hips glinting.

She was on her hands and knees; he couldn’t see her facial expression, but he felt her pelvic floor relax to let him in.

They started slow.

She exhaled and took him further inside. They both shuddered and then found a new rhythm.

* * *

Ama saw her youngest one, Esi, skip into Afua’s hut. As she chased inside after her, she heard Yaw’s grunts and Afua’s moans.

Esi stopped and saw Afua’s wrapper untied and crumpled at her ankles.

Yaw finished and retied Afua’s wrapper. As he swept out of the hut, he beckoned Esi over and ruffled her little cropped head.

He glanced up and saw Ama looking on by the entrance. They shared equal pride for their small, but mischievous daughter.

He pinched her ear, and she laughed.

Afua shooed all of them out of her hut. Esi ran ahead, shouting to her playmates, while Yaw and Ama fetched the machete, rake and hoe. He told her he’d come by her hut at dawn, before they all set off for the farm.

Smiling, Ama went back to join the braiding circle."

‘Yaw, Afua and Ama’ vignette extracted from ‘NORMATIVITY’, an audio essay looking at the ahistoricism of contemporary sexual and familial norms, written and recorded for the Broccoli Productions #AnthemsWomen series back in March. The series is available for free across all major audio platforms including Apple PodcastsGoogle Podcasts, and Spotify, and was nominated for ‘Best Arts & Culture Podcast’ in the Webby Awards 2021.

There’s a detail in the story above that I’d like to highlight: ‘[…] the colourful strings of beads at her hips glinting […]’, as the West African custom of wearing waist beads is a phenomenon I often like return to in my work.

NB. Those of you familiar with my Kayleigh Daniels Dated project might remember seeing beads at Kayleigh’s hips in Parys Gardener’s illustration for ‘Unprotected’ (although the story itself doesn’t make reference to them).

[Image description: Screenshot of illustration by Parys Gardener for Kayleigh Daniels Dated story, ‘Unprotected’, featuring a Korean man who’s naked except for a pair of glasses and a strategically place eggplant emoji cushion. In the foreground stands Kayleigh, a Black British woman, but only her thighs, bum and hips are in the frame wearing maroon-coloured knickers with two strings of black and white beads at her hips.]

Strings of beads are culturally significant in West Africa for many different reasons. They were used to adorn babies during naming ceremonies, and to portray femininity during puberty rites – they formed an anchor about which the menstrual cloth was strapped – and traditionally, a successful suitor would commission a set of beads for the wrists, neck, ankles, arms, and waist of his bride, which formed part of her dowry and the foundation of her personal wealth.

Many West African and diasporan women still like to wear strings of beads underneath their clothes. On my first extended trip here in 2008, I caught the occasional glimpse of colourful beads as young women wearing hipster jeans bent and stretched while going about their general everyday business. I asked the friends I’d made what I’d seen, who then told me about their cultural significance. The next time I went to the market I chose a few strings of beads for myself and fixed them about my hips. I only take them off to wear one particular pair of item of clothing in my wardrobe; the Lycra disco pants that are like a second skin.

I love that by wearing my beads, I bear a small part of my ancestral culture on my body. Always.

One of my favourite things about hooking up with someone new is the part where, fully-clothed, I place their hands on my hips and they feel out their smooth hardness. They’re excited to have a peep. And I’m excited to show them, ‘cause the way the colours pop against my skin tone is just 🔥, y’know.

Revealing a visible symbol of my heritage in this way, and revelling in the culture of my ancestors with such obvious abandon, can, from time to time, be met with bewilderment and some hesitancy. I’ve never really been very good at co-sleeping, but I’ve learned that I’m most relaxed snoozing next to someone who habitually likes to fiddle with my strings of waist beads.


[Image description: Text ‘POSTSCRIPT’ on a navy blue background with a lilac paintbrush stroke]

This month’s ‘POSTSCRIPT’ is a special edition about my visit to TK Beats, a local artisan beads retailer, and I’ve made it available for all subscribers. It drops tomorrow.

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Glossary

ahistoricism – system of thought or analysis which fails to view persons, texts, cultural phenomena, etc., within their historical context.

braiding circle – the circular formation which enable a woman’s hair to be braided by the woman seated behind and so on.

diasporan – a person living in a diaspora; any member of a particular group of people dispersed beyond their traditional homeland or point of origin.

dowry – a transfer of parental property, gifts, property or money upon the marriage of a daughter (bride).

machete, rake and hoe – farming tools used in both pre-colonial and modern West Africa.

mat – textile woven from dried reeds or grasses used for sleeping on, or other activities.

normativity – the state of conforming to, or setting a standard or ‘norm’; following social ‘norms’ and rules.

wrapper – colourful, rectangular piece of cloth tied around the waist to form a garment.


[Image description: Text ‘PRODUCED BY’ on navy blue background with a lilac paintbrush stroke]

I’m Almaz Ohene, a Creative CopywriterFreelance Journalist and Accidental Sexpert.
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Edited and Proofed by Poppy Beale-Collins, a writer and editor. People who would like to work with Poppy should get in touch via poppybcollins@gmail.com.