Perhaps I could interest you in some beads?Trading Post Missionary to American Indian, Dead Man
Strange dawn! The morning of the Occident in black Africa was spangled over with smiles, with cannon shots, with shining glass beads.C. H. Kane, Ambiguous Adventure
Foreboding, too, insisted on a gun,
And coloured beads to soothe a savage eye.W. H. Auden
One cannot over-emphasise the importance of glass beads in the European colonization of a vast portion of the inhabited world.Lidia Sciama
Beads, whether of African, Asian or European manufacture, remain peripheral, scarcely studied and hardly seen, let alone recognised as a unifying cultural entity within slavery studies and indeed within the officially sanctioned sites for the memory of slavery. Yet how a culture now moves around beads and memory can tell you a lot about its creative health, its perceptual vigour, its aesthetic virtue and its artistic democracy. As far as what is going to be said here goes, how a culture understands beads also tells you about its understanding of Africa and slavery. Perhaps nothing sums up European blindness to African perceptions and cultures, or indeed blindness to the way African culture and art could move beyond the ‘Middle Passage’, as powerfully as the way beads have been overlooked. When they are noticed at all by Europeans within the contexts of trade, aesthetics or the African diaspora they are, as the first two of my epigrams would suggest, trivialised and linked to exploitative violence. This of course is to understand beads only from the devolved sensibility of industrial Europe and entirely to forget the essential sensibilities of many sub-Saharan African cultures. To African eyes, the physical is also the spiritual, matter is naturally other-worldly and colour is symbolic of divinities and spiritual interrelationships. Ever since the first piece of ostrich shell was gnawed into a disc by human teeth, pierced with a bone needle and threaded on a string of dry grass, which is to say ever since what we term human civilisation began in Africa and on our planet Earth, Africans have made beads.
They have continued to make them and since the sixteenth century have been importing them in vast quantities from Asia and Europe without interruption.