Sint Eustatius

Echoes of the Past

more than a year ago
In the 1600s, African slaves were brought to Statia to cultivate the land which was divided into 70 plantations. It took almost three centuries before this cruel practice was abolished and one of the tangible reminders of this period that can still be found are the trade beads, also known as slave beads. These colourful and decorative glass beads were used between the 16th and 20th centuries as a currency to exchange for human cargo as well as ivory, gold and other goods desired in Europe and the rest of the world. They formed an important piece of an early trade network linking Europe and Africa. The beads did not have a set design and were made according to demand throughout Europe, although the Venetians dominated production. They were produced by creating flowers or stripes from glass that were then cut and moulded onto a core of solid coloured glass. The success of this form of currency can largely be attributed to the high intrinsic value African peoples placed on decorative items as the art of glass making was uncommon in Africa, making them unusual and precious. For the Europeans the beads proved to be a cheap and efficient means of exploiting African resources. And although most beads are cheap, common and simple, it’s still a great pleasure to find these echoes of the past in the sand, especially after a fierce storm. Just remember that in the old days a handful of these insignificant baubles were as prestigious and valuable then as a fist full of diamonds today. Slaves would fight fiercely over these beads as marriage could be bought when a slave had amassed enough beads to wrap around a woman's waist.


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