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Onyoka – a proud Namibian tradition by the sea

Maggi Barnard

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  • shellfish,
  • shells,
  • Jewellery,
  • Necklaces,
  • Livelihoods,
  • coastal communities,
  • income,
  • women,
  • manufacturing
Target Group
  • Community workers,
  • Entrepreneurs,
  • Policy makers,
  • Students,
  • Teachers,
  • Youth
  • English
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Onyoka, necklaces made from mussel shell beads, play an important role in the culture and livelihoods of Oshiwambo women in Walvis Bay, Namibia.

This blog from 2018 on a travel website reviews the role and manufacturing of onyoka necklaces by women of Oshiwambo coastal communities in Walvis Bay, Namibia. The onyoka necklaces are worn on occasions such as weddings, christenings and funerals. New babies are welcomed into the world with a string of onyoka. The more strings of onyoka worn, the wealthier the woman is considered to be. Making and selling onyoka is a vibrant home-based business and a huge source of income. However, the process is highly labour intensive and time consuming. It involves collecting the shells, cutting out the middle pieces with garden scissors, soaking the squares in water to make drilling and grinding easier, drilling a hole in the middle of each square, stringing the beads with a needle onto lengths of wool and grinding the edges. After grinding, the beads are ready to be strung with a needle onto 16-centimetre lengths of wool. The necklaces are either left natural or dyed pink to match traditional Oshiwambo dresses.