Waist beads: For the Mijikenda, it possessed the power to attract and evoke deep intimate emotions
By Marion Kithi | May 13th 2022 | 6 min read
Waist beads and anklets have been worn by Mijikenda women for centuries, and for many reasons.
For some it is an important ingredient to spice up sex life among couples. Others, however, claim the beads and anklets are worn for spirituality or to heal infertility.
But whichever the case, this ancient tradition has come to be accepted as source of inexplicable erotic desire among men at the Coast, who equate it a woman’s show of expertise in romance.
In recent times, these ornaments are seen as beauty but other people still claim they “enhance sexual performance”.
Among the Mijikenda tribe, elders and custodians of this tradition say these fashion ornaments locally known as ‘matungo’ or ‘mulume khalala’ were worn to celebrate womanhood.
The matungo was made from wood, dried fruits and even dried skin.
Oral narratives state that a successful suitor would commission a set of beads including bracelets, anklets, necklaces and waist beads for his bride a night before her wedding.
Those who agree with this narrative claim that the bridegroom was the only one who was allowed to remove them from his newly-wedded wife’s waist on the wedding night.
Thefule Abed, 74, a marriage counsellor (kungwi) says waists beads were only for married women worn under their garments.
They were also used to raise awareness and protest to the in-laws in the event of a sexless marriage as women could not discuss their sex life openly.
“A woman would wear her waist beads on top of her clothes to pass a message to her father in-law in case her husband deprived her conjugal rights. And once the father in-law noticed it, he would sit his son down and find out the root of the problem,” Thefule says.
“If the issue remained unresolved, then the woman would leave her matrimonial home and go back to her father’s house and upon her absence her in-laws would definitely know what caused her to run away.’’
Thefule says the primary role of the beads and anklets is to light up bedroom life.
“After her bath, a woman would wrap a leso around her waist and her husband would remove it. The sight of these sexy beads would make the man weak instantly,” he says.
He adds that women were advised to sleep naked, so that their partners would play with the beads until they fell asleep.
“It brings peace in marriage. The women who passed through me didn’t have major cases of disagreements. That secret weapon charmed their marriages.’’
He also says that it was used to prevent bad omen and worldly curses which sometimes make a woman unable to conceive.
Black-colour waist beads were also given to babies during naming ceremonies for spiritual healing, peace and sanity. They were believed to protect them from bad omens and any form of witchcraft as they grew up.
“When I gave birth to my first born, she would always cry at night. My mother-in-law made for her a black waist bead and she stopped crying,” says Ms Kanze Gona, 61.
She believes that when a baby cries at night, it shows that a witch is hovering around and could harm the child.
“Babies are angels. So when they cry non-stop at night, it’s a signal that a bad spirit is hovering around,” she says.
However, some men in Coast say women who wear waist beads and anklets are good in bed and some men go an extra mile to buy the fashion items for their wives.
“I bought one for my wife and I always make sure she wears it. It’s magical, I play with it in the bedroom and it has really brought life to our love life,” says Khamis Ngowa.
Charles Kenga says he cannot resist a woman with waist beads.
“Seeing her waist beads raises my goose bumps. To be honest they say ‘any weapon formed against a man shall not prosper.’ But if the weapon comes in the form of a woman with waist beads and anklets I swear it will prosper,” he jokes.
Bensukar Daura, a fashion designer and Nigerian citizen living in Mombasa, says the practice back in Nigeria is common especially among the Yoruba women.
“We the Yorubas call it the ‘ileke.’ We have a saying that, ‘it is the beads that make the buttocks to shake” he says. He says it’s one way of appreciating the African culture.
Today, this practice is trending among women in Nairobi who say wearing beads for seduction still remains one of the primary reasons why they adorn this accessory. They claim that men perform better in bed when their partners wear waist beads.
“I was given on my wedding night and I used to wear them daily. I remember there was a time it got cut and I didn’t repair it. That day when my husband came to bed and realised that I didn’t have it, he was so furious that I had to repair it,” says Amina Chai.
But while the ornaments are quickly becoming a favourite among young and older women alike, otherpeople feel that women who wear waist beads and anklets as ‘loose’ or trashy.
The critics allege that the beads lure men into the wearers’ trap after being laced with charms and fragrances that would be considered irresistible to the opposite sex.
Sam Kenga says he cannot marry such a woman because they have questionable character.
“These women wearing waist beads and anklets are easy going. So I cannot marry such a woman,” he vows.
He says the practice is unacceptable because women who wear these ornaments are always on a mission to sell their bodies.
Some men say these women are wayward but good in bed, so they can only have a fling with them but not a long-term relationship.
“I can only hit and run. These women tend to be notorious in bed. They can satisfy a man; they know how to rotate their waists and take you to heaven and I can only be there for the pleasure but I cannot give my ring to such a woman,” says Emanuel Katana.
Despite the negative labels, women who adorn the beads maintain that they still find the ornaments magical and cannot go a day without them.
Cynthia Kamau says she cannot leave the house without wearing her waist beads and anklets, adding that she feels empty and lacks confidence whenever she steps out without them.
“Beads light up my world; though our society is very cultural. They say beads have spiritual attachment, but that is not the case for me. I see them as normal accessories. I’m not controlled by what the society says. I cannot avoid their opinions but they cannot stop me from wearing what I want,” she says.
Wearing beads and anklets has also been associated with lesbianism by some critics.
“People at some point thought I was a lesbian for wearing leg anklets but they din’t stop me from wearing them because I don’t have anything negative in mind. I’m wearing it for beauty and my boyfriend finds them sexy,” says Anita Ochieng’, a university student.
Women also say they wear beads to tone their bodies in such a way that their waists are synched and give them their physique an admirable definition.
“Wearing multiple waist beads over time helps to keep the waist small and accentuate the hips. I use it to watch my weight. When I gain it rolls up the waist and becomes tight. However, it rolls down or loosens up and falls off when I lose weight,” says Munaa Al-Habshy.
Mijikenda tradition dictates that women who were on the verge of getting married would be given these waist beads a day before their wedding as they were believed to possess the power to attract as well as evoke deep emotional responses.
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