Thursday, January 30, 2014

Ileke Idi (Waist Beads)

So I recently thought about Ileke Idi... When I was younger, I noticed a number of young ladies in Lagos would wear many beads around their waists and those beads would move up and down as they walk.  They are called Ileke Idi or waist beads.

I asked my mom about Ileke Idi* or waist beads the other day, and she claims that they are an Igbo tradition that have nothing to do with Yoruba culture.  In her words "Bi won she ma lo okurin na ma wa!" Basically she thinks that the only purpose of wearing a waist bead is to attract a mate.

*Literally translated, Ileke Idi means butt beads (lol).

I don't think my mom is right though on her claim that waist beads are an Igbo tradition or that the purpose of wearing waist beads is to attract a mate...When I was a kid, I remember hearing people talk about Ileke Idi and I always understood it to be a Yoruba accessory.

Divine Moon on tumblr writes the following about Ileke Idi:
Ileke Idi/waist bead is an ornament that comprises some small round sometimes spherical or flat shaped piece of glass, rubber, metal, nut or wood, pierced in the middle for stringing and aligned on a thin rope or thread to make a beautiful long piece of ornament which can be connected at both ends to form a circular Ileke hanging around the waist and hips. It comes in varying designs and radiant colours. It is normally worn around the waist beneath clothes mostly by Yoruba women. It is worn across West African countries too.

It is worn often for adornment but there are however other reasons Yoruba women wear it, sometimes for religious rites, to increase dancing prowess, spiritual healing, status or more commonly, for erotic appeal to their husbands or to attract new suitors and in this case, the Ileke Idi would be made visible to the targeted persons. During the past generations, Ileke Idi was the vogue and one of the most cherished gifts a woman could receive, parents were known to adorn their daughters with colourful and expensive ones.
The Misconception
Ileke Idi now slowly becoming obsolete as contemporary Yoruba women, supposedly the educated ones consider it as uncivilized, uneducated and uncouth. Some Yoruba men have insisted they cannot be with a woman that wears Ileke Idi as they purport it reveals spirituality that does not tally with theirs.
I recently purchased coral and gold waist beads from Waist Beads by Sewra.  I bought them because I've been going through this kinky chic transition, and I wanted something that would be a private symbol of my connection to the sensual traditions of the Yoruba. I've been wearing them under my clothes, and they are such a good fit for my purpose.  The waist beads sit very low on my waist and are very comfortable.  I ordered a size that was about 4-5 inches wider than my waist so it would sit right above my hip bone, and I love the way it fits and sits.  It's a private symbol of femininity.

No filter. The sun was just rising when I took this picture.
I also understand that they are a good way to monitor weight gain around the belly, but I didn't buy them for this purpose!  With joy I heed the words of my sister during a recent conversation, "Make peace with your curves and lumps."  I'm no longer concerned with being physically perfect.  Rather, my emotional cleanse will manifest itself in the most beautiful way.

Do you have anything that you wear that reminds you of your traditions or culture?


  1. Yeah, I always thought this was for some religious reason or the other. Interesting read!

    1. It's funny I never associated it with something religious... But I was always curious about them since no one in my immediate family wore them. I did see girls in my extended family, but for some reason I never asked about it. I looooove it!

    2. That's true. I don't think I actually knew anyone who did but I think I remember someone saying it was something to do with religion... One of those childhood 'facts' that I never thought to contest until now. lol!

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  3. you are looking good, girl. I would need to use a Waist Cincher to be that skinny!

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  6. It unfortunate that Yoruba people are loosing touch with their culture and traditions. I'm glad you decided to reconnect. Your ileke idi look beautiful.