Mali Wedding Beads: Pineapples, Light Bulbs or Claws?

by African Beads on June 18, 2013

With their ripe, juicy colors and fascinating history, Mali Wedding Beads have long been a personal favorite for jewelry making. But, that’s not the only reason these I love these old Trade Beads. An inherent part of their appeal is the tribal symbolism associated with their various shapes – many of which are suggestive of the female form and fertility. If you are considering buying authentic strings of these fascinating beads, it helps to know the kind of shapes and sizes to look out for. Here are some of the most common.

Light bulbs:

A similar shape to the old style of light bulb with a flatt-ish top and straight sides that taper outwards abruptly. The lower portion of the bead is almost perfectly circular, with no visible seam. Light bulbs are among the largest Mali beads, and are prized because of their resemblance to the female form.


Slightly fatter than a light bulb with a flatt-ish top, graduated sides and a bulbous base. The bulbous part of the bead is slightly elongated, and tapers gently to an almost flat base. Pineapples are wider than most other styles, and can measure between 1 and 1.5 inches.


Mali claw beads are easily distinguishable because they look like crab or lobster claws when viewed side-on. The semi-circular shape of the bead is accentuated by a smaller crescent cut out at the rear. Claw beads can either be fat (think ying and yang signs), or elongated, and sometimes have a clipped or straight base.


Mali teardrop beads are near perfect in shape, with equal length sloped sides and a domed base. The top is usually pointed or domed. Teardrop styles vary in size; they can be long and thin, or short and squat.

Flattened Shapes:

Flattened shapes refer to the squashed ovals and triangles often found on old bead strings. Although not quite as old as some of the more bulbous varieties, they make for excellent focal beads and pendants. Ovals and triangles can range from ½ an inch to 1.5 inches, and are often striped, or multi-colored.

If, like me, you’re always looking for inspiration for that next design project, Mali Wedding Beads sure make for a sound investment. Such is the variety in colors and sizes I get with each string, there are no end of creative possibilities!

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