The main form of advertising in Uganda is by brightly colored posters glued and nailed onto every available tree, fence, wall, car, and other available surfaces. The posters overlap forming layer after layer of colors advertising political candidates, upcoming concerts, and spreading AIDS awareness.
What happens to the extra posters? Or to the misprints? They find their way to the second hand market, are bought by little Ugandan ladies, and eventually start life anew in our countries as beautiful paper bead jewelry.
Selecting paper is important, as the colors of the paper come together to form the color of the bead. The paper is measured along each side, and marked at a certain distance, say one centimeter. Then lines are drawn back and forth across the paper from one mark to another, forming hundreds of long skinny triangles. The triangles are then cut and set aside for rolling.
The ladies roll the beads over needle or toothpick, starting with the base of the triangle and using their fingers to push and roll the paper over the needle. Slowly the triangle becomes smaller, its paper forming the oval which will soon become a bead. When she reaches the tip of the triangle, a drop of glue is added to the tip, which keeps the entire bead from unraveling. The bead is then slipped off of the needle and the rolling process begins again.
After several hundred beads are accumulated, they are strung on fishing line and varnished using a clear lacquer. How many times the beads need to be dipped depends of the thickness of the paper used to make the beads. The lacquer preserved the color of the bead, makes it waterproof and shiny, and smoothes out the ridges made by the layers of paper. Beads are normally dipped 3-7 times. Following the first dipping, the beads are hung and left to dry for 3 days. Then they are dipped again and again, requiring at least 1 day of drying between dips.
After the final dipping, the beads need to dry for a minimum of 1 week. Then they can be pulled off the fishing line and popped apart. A razor blade is used to clean up the edges where the beads were touching on the string, and WHALAH! The beads are ready to use!
We use paper beads to create necklaces, bracelets, earrings, rosaries, key chains, and even purses. They are beautiful, eclectic, and they are a great way to recycle while giving a hard working Ugandan woman the empowerment she deserves.