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Ghana's ancient beads back in vogue

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Ghana's ancient beads tradition is thriving again
  • Young Ghanaians are rediscovering traditional beads
  • The government is trying to promote the country's bead industry
  • Some beads are made from recycled materials, including glass bottles

Krobo, Ghana (CNN) -- A new generation of Ghanaians are rediscovering their heritage -- and rediscovering the appeal of traditional beads.

Many Ghanaians used to associate beads with an old-fashioned coming-of-age ritual for girls. But not anymore.

Tairee, a student at the University of Ghana, is proud to wear traditional beads. "It's coming back into fashion," she told CNN. "People can actually wear them on their necks and as parts of their clothing. I don't think they are old fashioned. It's coming back."

But it's not just women who are fans. Masoom, another University of Ghana student, said he thought women looked good in beads.

Gallery: Ghanaian beads

"It's attractive," he told CNN. "They [women] are more African when they wear their beads than usual. Especially when they wear it around their waist; it brings out the shape of their waist, and it's real attractive."

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According to a local market trader, the bead revival is a sign that young Ghanaians are experiencing what she called "sankofa."

"There's a culture of 'sankofa:' Go back and retrieve what you've left behind," said bead-shop owner Ernestina Anafu.

There's a culture of 'sankofa:' Go back and retrieve what you've left behind.
--Ernestina Anafu, bead-shop owner
  • Ghana
  • Africa
  • Waste and Recycling

"There was a period when they [young people] shunned beads; they said it was archaic, it was no longer fashionable. Since this period of 'sankofa' people are going traditional again."

Beads have a long history in Ghana. They were once the king's currency, according to E.B.T. Sikapa, an organizer for the first Ghana International Beads Festival. He told CNN that beads were once exchanged for slaves, alcoholic drinks, and textiles.

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While beads are no longer used as currency, they are still valuable to Ghana. The Ghanaian government has recognized the potential of the bead industry as a tourist attraction and in foreign trade.

Kati Torda, owner of Sun Trade Beads, has seen her exports -- mostly to Europe -- increase from five-percent of her revenue eight years ago, to 50 percent last year. Now she's looking to grow her business even more as she expands her product lines.

"Because of that new potential, we don't just produce necklaces and bracelets, we produce home decoration," Torda told CNN. "Of course, the potential is endless."

At a local market, some of the beads on sale are over 100 years old, recovered from burial grounds. But there are other, less ghoulish, forms of recycling being used, with some beads produced from recycled materials such as glass bottles.

"Ghana can teach a thing or two to the world about recycling," said Torda.

But the new-found popularity of beads isn't just about giving old materials a new lease of life -- it's about breathing new life into traditional ideas.

"They [the beads] mean so much to me," Tairee told CNN.

"It's not just colors. Where I'm from, if you wear something like blue it's purity, white is fertility, gold is wealth. I know what it means, so its so precious to me."

CNN's Richard Lui and Mark Tutton contributed to this report