Trade Beads: What’s in a Name?

Vintage blood red whitehearts.

Vintage blood red whitehearts with Karen Hill Tribe Thai sterling.

Ghanacraft has a great article on African beadmaking, brought to me through the eyes of another writer and jeweler and beadaholic, Rabihah Mateen of RAM jewels (check her out!)  I had never researched how the beads were made, mostly because when I think about this I am in front of beads and not my computer!

Rabihah posted an article that startled me, “African ‘Trade Beads”-Meaning Behind the Name.”  From her post: “African slaves were exchanged for the European imports; slaves transported to the Americas were exchanged for goods produced in the New World (cotton tobacco, sugar, etc., which were then sent back to Europe to begin the process all over again).”  She goes on to say that the colorful Venetian beads — my particular favorites — were the ones sought after, and if these beads ended up in Africa it is most likely that a slave was sold to obtain them.

Vintage bright orange whitehearts.

Vintage bright orange whitehearts with Karen Hill Tribe Thai sterling.

I almost always have some on my body, including now as I write this.   I  had never thought of the reason behind the name.  This is one of the things about cultural differences: you can’t imagine a perspective from a view and background so very different than your own until it is pointed out to you.  It is not that you are insensitive.  I am not a racist nor do I condone slavery in any form, and the very fact that it is far from my mind is why I had never put the name ‘trade beads” together with being traded for slaves!  I had imagined they were traded them for food and other goods they didn’t grow in Africa.  It never occurred to me.  This is why it is good to understand other perspectives.

I will still wear them and love them; currently they are not part of human trafficking.  However, I now have a different set of associations with the beads, and while not as nice as my fanciful one, it will bestow respect when I handle them, knowing that people’s lives may have been given for these beads.

Vintage bright yellow trade beads with Venetian cross.

Vintage bright yellow trade beads with hand-blown Venetian cross.

It brings me to another point which is part of my ethics, both in my business here and in the buying habits of our home.   I try to know where I get all the gems and beads I buy.  I reclaim a lot of gemstones, buying old necklaces and repurposing them in new designs.  I buy from small vendors who know the folks who create the sterling charms and bone beads.

Further, my husband and I spend out money with our ethics at the forefront.  We research where our items come from and make choices wherever possibly to avoid items whereby child labor is used, where men and women are forced to work brutal hours in poor conditions for nothing, or where it impacts lives or our planet negatively.  For me, these ethics are important, and I cannot always find an alternative, especially in electronics. as I sit in front of a computer and have no way to avoid harming the planet or participating in some negative humanitarian aspect and still stay in business.  But I can avoid sweatshop habits, pay a bit more for an item (t-shirts) and buy fewer of them, or buy recycled items.  I don’t shop at stores where they cut employee’s hours so they can avoid paying benefits (Walmart, Target, Olive Garden, et all), boycott GMO’s, try to buy organic when possible, and chose to buy my meat from sustainable humane sources, locally.   These choices can be limiting: for instance, we buy much less meat because it is appropriately expensive.  However, torturing an animal to eat it is not necessary, and practices that involve that type of cruelty are cheap and dehumanizing, even for the folks who have to work there.  We use every bit of the chicken, including the fat and bones.  This sustainable attitude is what my grandparents did, and it is a respectful way to live.

My decision to leave Etsy and move to zibbet (eventually I will go to my own website) was based on their decision to support cheap sweatshop producers in the name of handmade.  These choices count.  If you can buy a sterling or gold-plated necklace for $4.99 you must figure that somewhere “slave” labor is at work!  I will pay more for an artisan piece I know is not brutalizing a human life and have fewer trinkets!  If everyone began to do this and told the makers why they don’t want to buy from them changes would happen, as the market is driven by buyers!  Don’t tell me you love animals then buy brutalized chicken.  Don’t tell you me like children then buy sweatshop clothing.

Now when I wear my vintage trade beads, they remind me of slavery, and they remind me of the fight I wage every day to stop these negative practices.

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Vintage Italian blood red white hearts on vintage charm found in used shop.

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The Goddess of Willendorf

This bit of writing is a crossover piece, because it involves my artwork and my jewelry pieces.

Zenkatwrites's Blog

I am entranced by this small figurine, known as the Venus of Willendorf.  I began drawing and painting her twenty years ago.  I saw her in a museum in London and bought the small reproduction they had.  At the time I knew little about her.  I like going to museums and being with the pieces, art or antiquities, not reading about them until much later, if at all.  Most of the time it is a visual experience for me, and I don’t collect that much from the bits of words written about this or that.  I saw her in an exhibit with several other ancient images, some nearly pornographic (or so I have been told, as I drew and painted them.)  I was able to just sit with the mystery of why this voluptuous figurine had a bee-hive head, as I saw it.  I sketched her in my hotel room…

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Buddhism: The Eight Auspicious Symbols or Ashtamangala

The Eight Auspicious Symbols, ashtamangala, are the symbols of offering within the Buddhist tradition.  Ashta means “eight” and mangala is “auspicious.”At one time, the eight symbols of Indian royalty probably were a swastika, a throne, a knot, a vase (filled with jewels), a water flask, a bowl, a handprint, and two fish.

NOTE: Live links will take you to a page of that particular symbol gaus for; if there is no live link we are currently out of that symbol.  We often carry them in the form of gaus or pendants when available.

AS G ONYX (1)0The parasol, chattra, is a symbol of protection. In Vajrayana Buddhism the umbrella transformed into the goddess Sitatapatra, “the white umbrella”, who protects us from fears. The thousand spoked umbrella has a likeness to the thousand petalled lotus, shown at the crown chakra.

AMETHYST (2)0The chakra, wheel, is a symbol of creation, and in terms of the dharmachakra, or “truth wheel”, it symbolizes the wheel of transformation. The hub of the wheel represents discipline; the spokes symbolize the insight, or the Eightfold Path; and the rim symbolizes meditative concentration.

fish gau citrine0 2

Golden fishes, or suvarnamatsya, began as a symbol of the two rivers of the Ganges and the Yamuna. They now symbolize lunar and solar, or alternating breaths and channels within our body, similar to yin and yang. They also represent happiness and good fortune and fertility, and in Hinduism the fishes represent the yoni.

Treasure Vase2Nidhana kumbha, or golden treasure vase, evolved from the traditional Indian water vessel, and symbolizes spontaneous manifestations and abundance.

8 Auspicious Symbols Conch 0The pearly conch, or shankha, is a trumpeter that can banish evil spirits. Tibetan Buddhism transformed this symbol into an auspicious proclaimer of the dharma. You will find the conch placed on the palms, forehead, and soles of the feet of deities.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAShrivatsa, the endless knot, translates as “beloved of Lakshmi”, who is the goddess of good fortune. The endless knot is shaped a bit like swastika, and has forms which are two entwined snakes, or naga. The endless knot symbolizes Buddha’s endless wisdom.

8 Auspicious Symbols Victory BannerThe banner of victory, or dhvaja, symbolizes the Buddha’s victory over the hindrances to enlightenment. Originally it was the banner of Shiva; and associated with fertility. It is another name for the khatvanga, or skull-topped staff carried by such deities as Padmasambhava.

Lotus, padma, is a symbol of purity, growing pure white blossoms from swamps.

sham sat (5)_2

My images/blog posts can be reposted as long there is a link back to trishnajewelry.
All images  ©D.Katie Powell.
Permission must be granted to use my images unless they are embedded in a blog post.

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Men’s Jewelry

We have a wonderful line of jewelry for men on our etsy store and jewelry for men on our zibbet store.  The pieces were a collaborative effort with my husband Mitchell after he requested his first MahaDurgha medallion on antique red white hearts.

The line is also made from meaningful pendants and are made to slip over the head; they are typically 24-inches long, and simpler in their design.

I wasn’t sure at first if men other than my husband would wear necklaces; last year, however, we almost sold out of our Men’s Line!

Women who want longer necklaces also buy from this line.

Mitchell wears his all the time, at work in our studios around saws and chisels, and in the water.  He is a good test case for durability, though I don’t recommend that you wear the pieces in the water.

From time to time we also find amazing vintage jewelry for men, and post these on the men’s pages too: below are way cool vintage mid-century jade Buddha cufflinks by Swank!

jade cufflinks2

My images/blog posts can be reposted as long there is a link back to trishnajewelry.
All images  ©D.Katie Powell.
Permission must be granted to use my images unless they are embedded in a blog post.

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How TrishnaJewelry was Born

From my collection: Antique blood red 2mm white hearts and thai sterling oms.

From my collection: Antique blood red 2mm white hearts and Thai sterling oms.

“Desire That Moves One to a Heart Place” is our store slogan. I tend to wear icons that are meaningful to me for days as a sort of wearable altar.  I wanted to find great jewelry that I could wear I with both the little black dress and jeans and swirling hippie skirts.  Tibetan necklaces straight from Nepal just didn’t look right with business clothes, and I didn’t want the piece on a chain or silk cord, which I found a bit boring (no offense, but I like color and style.)

As a practitioner, I found wearing images dear to my heart more satisfying than wearing plain jewelry.

From my collection: Shakyamuni on vintage orange white hearts, layered with oms and floral doo-dahs on  modern French white hearts and pearl.

From my collection: Shakyamuni on vintage orange white hearts, layered with Thai sterling oms and floral doo-dahs on modern French white hearts and pearl.
The difference in the old and new is seen best close-up, as the older white hearts have a rounded soft brilliant appearance and you can’t see the white edges.

I began with simple brilliant gemstones or vintage and antique beads, and the best amulets of images, bought from the folks that make them. Layering of several of my favorite images was the answer for everyday (I dress in seven scarves or jeans ‘n tees) and then I would take all off all but one for conservative meetings.

Fair trade and sustainability are important to me, and so I seek out unusual affordable pendants from smaller designers.  I haven’t found an answer to many types of gemstones, but I always chose Indian if I have an option for mass-produced gems over Chinese because typically their labor practices are a bit better.   Also, no coral unless it is reclaimed (I search junk shops for old necklaces.)  I don’t know how to run a business without crossing some of these lines (I am typing on a computer, after all) but I search and make choices when I can.

Thai silver pendants on primitive amethyst; I like using primitive materials.  They are a bit less expensive and looked appropriate with some of the tribal pieces.

Thai silver pendants on primitive amethyst; I like using primitive materials. They are a bit less expensive and looked appropriate with some of the tribal pieces.

After I had my line started, my husband Mitchell wanted a MahaDurgha (great goddess of the Hindu traditions) medal on antique red white hearts; this was the beginning of the Men’s Line, and he is my go-to man for “would a man wear this?”

Our line is ready for the holiday rush in its seventh year, and we are selling on two platforms, zibbet and etsy.  We will do custom orders, but the closer we get to the holidays this becomes harder, and great pendants can’t just be bought online!  Contact me  directly for custom orders.

Mitchell at work wearing his MahaDurgha pendant.

Mitchell at work at MPF Conservation (our business) wearing his MahaDurgha pendant.

My images/blog posts can be reposted as long there is a link back to trishnajewelry.
All images  ©D.Katie Powell.
Permission must be granted to use my images unless they are embedded in a blog post.

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Finding a Sustainable Platform From Which to Sell

I have been selling my jewelry items on Etsy since 2009; beaded items and pendants from Nepal and Thai silver.  I was so happy with Etsy that I also opened a shop to sell my art.

If you follow my other blog you know that I have been involved in healthy sustainable movement for half my life.  It affects choices I make in my art as well — what beads I buy, who I buy from, etc.  Granted sometimes there are not viable alternative and/or I didn’t have all the info, but I keep working on it.

I chose Etsy because it was a certified B Corp business.  From their site:

“B Corp certification is to sustainable business what Fair Trade certification is to coffee or USDA Organic certification is to milk.
B Corps are certified by the nonprofit B Lab to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency.
Today, there is a growing community of more than 760 Certified B Corps from 27 countries and 60 industries working together toward 1 unifying goal: to redefine success in business.”

Now Etsy has decided to change its rules, allowing large sweatshop manufacturers to qualify as handmade.  I disagree.  The notion of handmade is not a bunch of children sitting in a factory sweatshop under unhealthy conditions.   I have no bone to pick with family businesses where children are being raised to work in the business (thai silver, or more specifically, Hill Tribe silver is an example), but the huge abuses in the jewelry industry (and others) are not something I want to be involved with.  This is how I chose my pendants.

On top of which, under the new CEO’s guidance, sellers like me are “permamuted” (this is what the seller subculture calls it) or silenced from speaking out when you politely but forcefully argue that something is not right business.   I’ve been warned; I am wearing this like a badge of being in the cool kids club.  If you keep it up, eventually you get booted off Etsy altogether.  Not for screwing your customers, not for falsifying information, but for disagreeing with policy in an appropriate forum for said purposes.

So, at great expense, I am moving my jewelry business to zibbet, as a starting place.  It will take a few months for everything to be transferred over.  I interviewed the owners, and they answered my questions quickly (from Down Under), and shared most of my values.  Jonathan was open handed about the issues they face.  Come find me there!

My images/blog posts can be reposted as long there is a link back to trishnajewelry.
All images  ©D.Katie Powell.
Permission must be granted to use my images unless they are embedded in a blog post.

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