Ohangla musician Otieno Aloka sings that Kanungo e Teko (the waist is where the strength lies).
However, only a few Kenyans understand that better than coastal women who sport waist beads or shanga - for their aesthetic value and much more...especially much more!
Since time immemorial, African women have worn shanga as a rite of passage and even to sexually entice their men, making it more than an accessory or fashion statement.
Keep husband happy
In Egypt, waist beads were worn by all women as uniform for pre-pubescent girls without any sexual connotation.
In Ghana, waist beads were nicknamed Jel-Jelli, Jigida, Giri-Giri, Djalay Djalay and Yomba. They were worn by girls to help form their bodies into shape.
“Belly beads are worn to accentuate the sexiness of a woman’s waist. Sometimes a woman can set the mood for romance with her man by tying a bunch of jasmine,” says Zulekha who beautifies brides in the Majengo area of Mombasa, where locals have been using shanga for ages to keep matters romantic hot.
That was until watoka bara (folks upcountry) turned the beads into visible fashion statements, in addition to ‘women of ill repute’ throwing their waists into the bargain.
“A woman would be adorned with beads by her somo (bride’s chaperon and tutor), with instructions to use them to keep her husband happy,” Zulekha says.
She adds that the beads were so revered that when a woman strayed, she was required by tradition to take them off before entertaining a mpango wa kando as the ones on her waist were for her husband’s eyes only.
“Such an abomination could even lead to exposure of her infidelity for disrespecting the power of the beads,” Zulekha says.
A trader in Mombasa told The Nairobian that his beads are sourced from Zanzibar, where they are crafted purposely for lovemaking.
A look at what he stocks indicates intricately strung beads in layers that he claims induce the act of intimacy just by caressing their many folds.
“Mwanamke anahisi mawimbi yanambeba (a woman would feel like she is riding a wave),” he told The Nairobian, even though he declined to give his name.
His beads are pricey and as a result, he boasts of polished career women as clients.
Some women lace their beads with charms and fragrances that reportedly make them irresistible to men, while others use the shanga to attract and keep men because the beads apparently enhance sexual experience.
“Mwanamke akivalia hizi shanga halafu kitandani awe smart, mwanamume hawezi banduka,” (If a woman wears the waist beads and is good in bed, his man will never leave), says Scholastica Kache. She is proud of her waist beads, which she confides she acquired from a local mganga.
Kache, who hooks up with wazungu tourists mainly from Germany and France, says the competition for men made her resort to charms to guard her ‘territory.’
“I used to get a mzungu, but they would abandon me after a short time. I later realised that one of my colleagues who was properly accessorised with beads from the local juju man was retaining most of her clients.
I followed suit and acquired a set of my own,” said Kache when we caught up with her at the Jomo Kenyatta public beach.
The 30-year-old says she was forced to ‘kwenda mbio’ (slang for seeking help of a ‘mganga’) a year ago and things have been looking up ever since.
Nelly Mshila says the waist beads help in stoking the “fire in the loins.” She says that, “No man can resist the sight of an array of beads around a woman’s waist.”
The 28-year-old says she puts them on during certain times of the month to express her romantic intentions and sexiness.