From Termite Dung to Fashion: Making of the Cenjeke Bracelet

Looking at the beautiful MUSE Group necklaces and bracelets one would never guess the profound story that is hidden in the beads and threads, the colours and shapes of the different pieces. All materials are sourced in western Africa by-hand by local women and include organic and recycled elements. You might wonder at what point termite dung fits in here. So let’s take a look at the making of a particular jewellery piece from start to finish, the Cenjeke Bracelet:

Muse Group bracelets on arms playing piano

It starts with the coffee seed…

The process starts every year between February and March, when local elderly women near Korhogo, which is located in the North of Cote d’Ivoire, harvest “coffee grain” reeds from the fallowed lowlands. The indigenous tree that carries the reeds is known as Tchétchèourai (chay-chay-oo-RAY) tree. The women continue removing the seeds from the reeds and soak them in water. They do this in order to separate them from the outer shell. What is left is what they refer to as “coffee seed” and what will soon be made into Tchétchèourai “Coffee Seed” beads.

Termite charcoal to be used in the production of the Cenjeke Bracelet

The popping of the seeds

After that, the women heat up a chunk of termite mound. They put it into a large mortar to pestle and pound together with the seeds. The combination of heat and pressure leads the seeds to “pop” out of their shell like popcorn.

Village women's group in Ivory Coast, Africa

Turning seeds into beads

The outcome is seeds in various colours, varying from brown to black. Naturally, the longer the seeds are “grilled” the darker they become. The women sort them based on colour and quality, but removing those that are deformed. The rest are hand-pierced using four principle recycled and reclaimed tools:

  1. A soup ladle head is removed from the handle and then used to hold the bead before it is pierced.
  2. A bicycle spoke serves as the “needle” used to pierce the bead.
  3. A small rectangular piece of iron – typically reclaimed from an old door jam – is used as a weight to tap the needle, piercing the hole in the bead.

Tools used in the production process of the Cenjeke Bracelet

Piercing holes in the seeds used for the production of the Cenjeke Bracelet

After the women have pieced each seed individually, they are strung onto pieces of local grass in groups of approximately 20 beads. These small cords are then grouped into bunches of 10. Then the bunches are grouped into bundles of 10. Eventually, there are approximately 2,000 seeds per bundle.

The weaving of the Cenjeke Bracelet

The women sell them to the MUSE Group at a price premium. Urban artisans are using a combination of the coffee seed beads and tiny glass beads to hand-weave the Cenjeke Bracelet using durable nylon thread. At the end of each strand, the nylon thread is burned to melt the ends together.

Hand-weaving the MUSE Group bracelets

Hand-weaving MUSE Group bracelets with durable nylon thread

Voilá – the Cenjeke Bracelet by MUSE Group has been created. All in all, the bracelet’s long journey and its beautifully sourced materials reflect the ingenuity and tenacity of the African woman herself.

You can buy this product in our online shop.

Lara Petersen

Lara Petersen

After her studies abroad and exploring the world for many years, Lara returned to Berlin in 2015 and ever since combines her passions cultures, communication and writing by working as part of the ABURY family. Lara is the editor-in-chief and admin of the One of a Mind blogzine by ABURY.

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