Africa

The Glass Beads Game

The art of glass beadmaking could now be added to the UNESCO list of intangible cultural heritage

The ‘glass beads game’ tells the story of the Venetians glass beads and their trade to Africa, where they are still used by many tribes with different purposes. In 1352 the Moroccan traveller Ibn Battuta, left his native Tangiers and set out to the Kingdom of Mali. In his descriptions of the country and people’s customs, Battuta wrote: “in this country travelers do not carry provisions with them, and not even ducats or drachmas. They bring salt pieces, glass ornaments or custom jewelry that people call nazhms (strings of glass beads) and some spices”.Venetian glass beads production is rooted in very ancient traditions and harks back to the Roman and Byzantine handcraft.

Recently UNESCO approved the dossier compiled by Italy and France for this art to be recognised as part of Humanity’s Intangible Heritage.
Thanks to the Golden Bull granted to Venetian merchants by the basileus of Constantinople in 1082, Venice expanded the trade with the Southern Mediterranean basin. In the XV Century, after the fall of Constantinople conquered by Ottoman Turks in 1453, and above all thanks to the discovery of the New World, trade routes changed dramatically. The Gulf of Guinea became the new commercial pole where Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch and English ships unloaded their goods for trading. Among these goods, Venetian glass beads were used as coins, with their “magic” beauty, handiness and resistance.

The reportage was shot in:
Italy – Venice and Murano
Ghana – Female initiation of the Krobo girls
Cameroon – Sculptures and dances of the masks covered by glass beads

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