Seeing Seeds Through Beads: A Bracelet Making Activity Honoring Traditional Foods in Black Culture

Gina Wright
June 17, 2022

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For this activity we will be beading bracelets to recognize and honor significant foods carried on for generations in Black, African-American, Afro-descendent culture. The beads we use will represent the seeds of the significant foods. Carrying forth these traditional foods has and continues to be an act of radical care, nourishment, and nurture.

As many people say and have heard, “We are what we eat.” A lot of the time what we eat tells us about our communities, practices, staples—it tells us about our cultures. And, what we eat comes from seeds. As said by Soul Fire Farm: “Seeds are living links of a historical chain, anchoring us to a larger community, connecting us to our ancestors, rooting us firmly in the present, giving us a sense of identity, belonging, and purpose.”

The Activity

Make a beaded bracelet with any combination of “seeds” you see fit. Given the seeds you choose, your bracelet will take on a different meaning or significance. The beads for this activity will represent seeds for black-eyed peas, okra, collard greens, corn, red beans, and yams.

The Beans & Representation

Black-eyed peas can represent good luck, health and fortune. These legumes trace back to West Africa, and many enslaved women braided these seeds, as well as Okra, into their hair before they were taken across the Atlantic.

Okra has and continues to be a staple food item for Black, African-American, and Afro-descendant peoples. It is often used in the dish of gumbo or cooked with black-eyed peas. Okra can represent groundedness.  

Collard greens were one of the few foods or crops that enslaved peoples in America were permitted to grow. It can represent creativity. Folks worked with what they had or were permitted to grow to make something delicious. 

Corn, similar to collard greens, was and continues to be a point of ingenuity for Black people in America. People who were enslaved creatively used this crop to make items such as cornbread ( or ashcakes), grits, and hoecakes. There is overlap with how this crop is used in black communities as well as with indigenous peoples of America, or Turtle Island. Corn can, too, represent creativity. 

Red beans and rice are a staple food combination in many Black communities and homes. It has a deep and diasporic history. Not only is it a popular dish in the states ( usually the Southern states), but is a major food item in the Caribbean as well. Red beans can represent a melding of peoples and cultures. 

Yams also have a history that traces back to West African regions, specifically in places home to Yoruba and Igbo peoples. It has been said that this crop represents prosperity. This crop has been carried through time and space and continues to remain important in many black communities. 

This activity was shared  at the Foodwise Teens tent by Gina Wright at Juneteenth on the Waterfront on June 11, 2022.