Continuing a cultural tradition

SHOWCASED in shelves or spread out on any flat surface, they attract attention as spectacular works of art worn by cultural dancers on their necks, arms, hands, heads and ankles. Meticulously inserting the thread into the very small holes of the beads requires a near-perfect eyesight and patience of the saints, and choosing the colors and following designs require skills and artistic creativity before a piece of bead jewelry can be finished.

As more and more fashion jewelry and accessories emerge into the market, people are finding it not only easier and cheaper but more convenient to just pick up any piece of fashion jewelry to go with their daily clothes than buy the traditional beadwork done by local artists.

Bead making in the CNMI may become a lost art if those who are skilled on it will not pass their knowledge to the younger generations, according to Ann Billy, one of the local exhibitors who showcased a fine selection of beadwork jewelry at the 30th Flame Tree Arts Festival at American Memorial Park grounds onJune 9-12.

A piece of bead necklace for example takes from two to three weeks to finish, depending on the complexity of the design and the size of the beads.

“The smaller the beads are and the more complex the design is, the longer it takes to finish,” Billy said.

If the beads are a little bit larger and the design is simpler, a beadwork necklace may be finished in a week or so. The bigger pieces of beadworks fetch a higher price of up to even more than $200, but with the bad economy, local beadmakers have turned to fashioning simple necklaces, bracelets and other jewelry which they sell for affordable prices from $10 and up. These smaller items, Billy said, have become the most saleable ones lately.

The CNMI is beefing up efforts in preserving this cultural tradition by introducing this art to visitors to the island, by demonstrations of beadwork making at travel fairs and exhibits in other countries, by offering cultural classes such as the ones held at The Inetnon mot yan Kutturan Natibu/Mwiischil Safey me Kkoor Arasamal Falw (Association of Native Medicine and Culture) and by these bead artisans handing their knowledge to the younger generations.

Beadworks are available from local artists during exhibits at the Flame Tree Arts Festival, arts exhibits hosted by the Commonwealth Arts Council, and other events. Buying beadwork jewelry requires no sweat, but each piece has its own story to tell. Each piece portrays the effort and creativity of the artist before a piece is finally done and ready for selling. When you take home a piece of beadwork jewelry, you are taking home a part of the island’s culture and tradition, and most importantly, helping keep this cultural tradition alive.


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