This month is bracelet month at FlorenceJewelshop. I love bracelets, all kinds of bracelets. I think they can make you so beautiful. But I have problems with one type of bracelet. Not because of its shape or material, but because of its name. A bracelet should not be a slave bracelet. We have to invent some other name for that type of bracelet. There should not be slaves in our society, and they should not be held with a ‘slave’ bracelet. And nobody should have to wear a ‘slave’ bracelet again. Period! But what to do with those types of bracelets?
What is a ‘slave bracelet’?
In the 50s of the last century, the ‘slave bracelet’ became very popular in The Netherlands (and probably also in the UK and the USA). I owe a golden bracelet, with no decoration, just a smooth band with a hinge clasp. You have them in silver too. In ads for these slave bracelets, they use black women, and at that time it is not really a problem. That is: you do not hear any complaint from organizations or persons, that this is discrimination.
The bracelets have the shape of the chains that the slaves wear when they are transported or have to work outside, especially in Northern America and the Caribean.
But what is the meaning of these slave bracelets? Is it that we just like them in those times and we do not think bad about the name or the symbol? We just like that silver of golden simple accent on our wrists. And women’s liberation movements are not fanatic at the time?
When you dive into history, these kinds of bands or bracelets are only worn by the slaves from Western Africa. They are also used in India by belly dancers. Although the dancers wear that bracelet with chains over the top of a hand ending in a ring. The slave bracelets are also a part of the harem jewelry. An element of slavery occurs in every old culture that knew these bracelets. Nowadays they are popular in the SM scene and among the young people, who probably have no idea where the shape, the name, and the idea of their favorite bracelets come from.
Also in the Americas, they were acquainted with slave bracelets, although they were not called like that. When the North American native population migrated to the Caribbean and further on to South America they brought the custom of wearing gold or silver bangles. And they looked like the slave bracelets, as we are talking about in this blog.
Their custom was to give baby boys and girls silver or golden bangles. They were not supposed to take them off, and the children would wear them until they outgrew them and for health reasons would be removed. When the girls became adults, they started again with wearing these types of bangles. And they wore several of them just to show off how wealthy their husband was.
From the 16th century on these bracelets are made of iron or bronze without any clasp. It is a permanent band put around the wrist of a slave to prevent him or her from escaping. In India, these kinds of bracelets are made of silver or gold. And they are called ‘handflower’ or ‘Hathphool’. The hathphool is originally a piece of bridal jewelry with five rings connected with chains to a bangle bracelet. The rings represent female gods that protect the bride in difficult times. But later there are only three rings attached to the bangle to represent the bond of matrimony (or sometimes slavery).
African part of this history
Because of the name ‘slave bracelet’ you might think that the tradition or custom to wear this type of bangle started when the Europeans began the buy slaves in Africa. But history started ages before that time.
The women, that lived on the West coast of Africa traditionally wore copper bracelets that looked like a horse shoe. They called them ‘manilla’s’ and they had little balls on each end.
The Portuguese merchants noticed that these manillas were very popular and they started producing them. The bangles became a type of currency. With the in Europe produced bracelets they bought the African people that were captured (in war or during a raid) by their enemies from the ‘owners’. Most of the time African warlords, or chiefs.
The West African chiefs that got the bracelets at the sale of the captured people (slaves) used them to pay food, paid for burials or bought a bride. In this way, the bracelets became a type of currency and were called ‘slave bracelets’.
When slavery was abolished and the British government prohibited slave money, they introduced a new currency. The old money (c.q. the slave bracelets) was melted to make copper artifacts.
The ex African slaves, once freed and able to make their own money bought replicas of the slave bracelets to give as a present to their loved ones. It was the reminder that once they were sold, but now they are free, and that freedom would last. The slave bracelet became the symbol of freedom.
The modern slave bracelet
And at this time you see them made from rubber, rope, leather. And all kinds of materials that are smooth and easy to wear. We call them friendship bracelets nowadays or we use them as a ‘good cause’ bracelet. Just like the rubber band, Lance Armstrong introduces to collect money for curing cancer( ‘live strong’).
Isn’t time to change the name for this type of bracelet to ‘liberation bracelet’ to honor all the slaves. People have no choice but to wear this bracelet to keep them from running away. To honor all the slaves who have to leave their homeland and family to cultivate crops. People that work in households, without getting paid, or getting their freedom.
The right bracelet for you
On the other hand, don’t blame the bracelet. It is still a beautiful piece of jewelry when you are free to choose what bracelet to wear today. And be beautiful with it. But choose the right bracelet, because like the ‘slave’ bracelet not all the types of bracelets are looking good on you. When –for instance- I wear a wide cuff, a statement bracelet, I attract all the eyes to my wrists, and when I stand also to my hips that are too large (according to me). So I should wear smaller bracelets, that make my arms look longer.
I write a booklet about what types of bracelets you choose from and there are also 14 tips to choose the right bracelet, that makes you sparkle’. You can download this free booklet by letting me know where to send it to
Hug, Florence of FlorenceJewelshop