Waist beads were not passed down to me by my mother or given to me in any ceremony or rites of passage. In fact, I was wearing them for five years before I even knew what they were. Waist beads came into my life as a natural intrinsic desire to wear a chain around my ten year old pubescent hips. I remember standing in front of my jewelry box in my purple room in Brooklyn, holding a sterling silver necklace, my father’s girlfriend had given me, and stringing it with a turquoise ring my mother gifted me from Mexico. As I clasped it around my body the coolness of the metal touching my skin, I remember thinking I was doing something different something no one had ever done before, another testament of my wild creative mind the brain of the “artsy” girl of the family. I wore this same waist bead for the next five years straight never taking it off. By 15 my hips swelled into womanhood, this same chain that once glided ten year old hips was now tightening at the navel. At this point in my life I was dancing at the Alvin Ailey Junior Division School and the turquoise ring of the waist bead was apparently making an imprint into my tight maroon leotard. My sixty something year old former prima ballerina teacher assumed it was a navel ring, and navel rings were strictly prohibited at the dance school. I pleaded with her it wasn’t a piercing but jewelry that I never took off, it was a part of me. She stood there with all her perfect ballet posture in tact and she shot me an icy “don’t waste my time” look. I was round and brown, the antithesis of ballet, and I was in her world the chain had to go. I tried to continue wearing my beloved waist bead, only taking it off for classes, but dance was several nights a week plus weekends so I decided to let my chain go all together. I remember taking it off and feeling naked for the very first time.
Two years later I started taking West-African dance classes. One Saturday after class we were all in the dressing room as usual, changing from our vibrant colored lappas to street clothes, but on this particular day there was a woman selling long strands of tiny beads. I overheard her explaining how she makes beads for the waist and names then after things she’s seen in her travels like, “Sunset in Senegal” “Rose Bush in Kenya” as I listened closer I realized she was selling waist beads, that’s when I knew a chain foe the waist was not something I invented, it was a thing. Breathless and barely dressed I rushed over to her and told her of how I wore the same waist bead for years, how at ten years old I just knew I needed to wear a piece of jewelry around my waist. I will never forget the way she looked at me then, the way her eyes shimmered and her dark hair wrapped around her face like a halo, she smiled at me with the warmth of her spirit beaming and said, “that was your ancestor’s sweetie”. That moment was the first time I felt a part of a something much greater than me, tradition, legacy, Africa was born inside of me, and I Maya belonged.
In college I learned the significance of beadwork in Yoruba tradition. I learned to the Yoruba of Nigeria beads are associated with temperament, spiritual protection, desire, social status, wealth and well-being. The act of creating bead work is sacred because of the concentration and repetition involved. Bead work puts the artist in a trance, further heightening the spiritual power of the beads. In Yoruba culture threading both literally and symbolically encircles someone inside of the spiritual force that the beads represent. I was in the rigorous dance program at Howard University, and I needed all the spiritual forces I could get to help me get through. I would go to the spiritual shops called botanicas and buy beaded necklaces, (because surely they were blessed) and wear them as waist beads. My junior year I got into an Afro-Cuban dance company and shortly after, I began traveling to Cuba. It was there that I began to believe in my own healing power. I was deeply inspired by the strength and resiliency of the Cuban spirit, their infectious optimism and power to create something from nothing. In Cuba I learned to bead, I learned the vibrational power of numbers in bead patterns, I learned the healing power of stones, and the cooling vs. heating energy of colors. In Cuba I began to believe in a healing source inside myself.
I moved back to New York and began making semi-precious stones waist beads for myself. At that time I wanted love, stability, and happiness, so all of my waist beads were full of citrine. I began teaching dance classes throughout New York City women would often come up to me after class and inquire about the beads. I started off making them for my dance students, friends, and eventually my family. I would listen to things they wanted to improve in their life, their current obstacles, and decipher which stones that carried the energy they needed to stand in to overcome those isuues. My clients needs began patternize; peridot for inner guidance, smoky quartz for grounding, turquoise for menstrual cramps, garnet for low libido, rose quartz for love, citrine for joy and money….etc. This was Kolé Jewel conception. My genuine intention for all women who come to me whether its dance or jewelry is for them to fall in love with themselves and feel empowered in their own path to greatness, as defined by them. My yoga training is monumental in my approach to jewelry designing. Yoga restores balance, removes dullness so that we can experience the divine within ourselves. Imbalance exists where there is too much heat there is chaos or too much coolness there is stagnation and energy is not flowing. Yoga as in life when there is too much heat we must cool, and when we are too cool we must ignite a fire.
Semi-precious stone waist beads and dance is where I offer balance to my clients. One woman came to me in tears, she had just had her third miscarriage, she and her husband were trying to get pregnant for eight years. I made her some waist beads and a month later she was pregnant. They now just had their second child, both conceived in Kolé Jewel. Many jewelry designers, especially waist bead designers are usually called waist beads by so and so, after the person who makes them. Kolé Jewel waist beads are bigger than me; it’s an energy that flows through me. Kolé pronounced ( KHO-LAY) is a path of Oshun, the African Goddess of love and femininity. One of the many lessons Oshun teaches is self-love and self-reflection. I feel like for women it is our natural instinct to nurture others, it’s in our DNA, but life teaches us our destiny is to love ourselves.