That Time I Wanted...

August 2021

Rebellious Embellishments: Journey Into the Supernatural

There’s More than Meets the Eye to Our Modern Interpretations of Traditional African Adornments

Words by Yegwa Ukpo

Photography by Zoran Jelenic

Cowrie Shell details.

Human beings have always loved embellishments. In the modern world, most embellishments speak to about two senses - the aesthetic and the social. One can add embroidery, patches, button badges and more to clothing in order to signify at some level of communication, something about who one is or what one likes.

Rebel. I belong. I don't care.

Colours. Textures. Memories.

The cowrie has been used across Africa as a medium of exchange, between humans and their material goods and sometimes as currency for trade with the supernatural. What was once a home and armour for a snail, transmuted by its departure into an instrument for weaving and expressing culture, myth and belief; or an instrument for evoking all of the former through clothing.

The delicate stitches around the cowrie shells on some of the shirts in the collection almost feel like magic circles, the cowrie shells being positioned to summon forth meaning through their links to the myths and meanings of the African groups that used to use them in their daily rituals of commerce and religion and the modern flavour of mythology that Post-Imperial is building in collaboration with its customers and the cultural heritages it bases so much of its identity on.

Close up of Maasai bead detail on Ijebu Shirt.

Most embellishments speak to about two senses - the aesthetic and the social.

Maasai beads further extend this story, referencing a tradition that historically didn’t use the brightly coloured beads that we associate with the craft today. The beads made from glass and plastic in different communities are usually obtained through trade and importation - a clear sign of the contemporary relevance of this practice and the importance of cultural and material exchange to the maintenance of a vital culture.

The beads aligned with the lines formed by the adire dyeing process are also a sign of this sort of cultural and material exchange.

Craft meeting and creating new myths.


Yegwa Ukpo is the Head maintainer of Newtype, a maintenance practice focused on wisdom ecologies of food, shelter, clothing, and relationships between human and non-human beings.
He has had his work featured and mentioned in both local and international publications like the New York Times, Paper Magazine, Vogue, The New Yorker, Guardian Life, and more.

He is currently working on “New Parameters of Making”; an international design project which explores alternative ways of making textiles, clothing, organizations and more.


Maasai women make, sell and display their bead work.