Growing up in Trinidad and Tobago, bangles have been a part of my life since I can first remember. West Indian bangles, or Bayras, have a long history in my family.
I grew up watching my father create Bayras, and he grew up watching his own father do the same. My grandfather started our family jewelry business in the 1940s. My father learned from him, and he taught me the same jewelry crafting methods islanders have been using for a century to create the jewelry.
But West Indian Bangles have a much deeper history extending even beyond the decades my family have been hand making them.
For centuries West Indian Bangles have been particularly important for families with newborns. The small silver bangles and gold bangles are often gifted to newborns and young children as a reminder of their West Indian heritage.
Historically, bangles were also used as a form of currency in West Africa, particularly during the slave trade era. Because the pieces were often made with gold or African “red gold,” a form of copper in West African companies.
This largely fizzled out after the slave trade ended, but West Indian Bangles were still worn as a status symbol in both West African and West Indian Islands. The more gold bangles a woman had, the more her husband made, giving the family more clout in the area.
Subsequently, with the movement of Indentured Persons from India and other parts of South Asia, the bangles that you see today were introduced to the Caribbean cultural environment. Adopting local motifs like the cocoa pod and nutmeg further served to cement the iconic status of the West Indian Bangle.
What are bangles used for today? Today bangles are still a common accessory for those who grew up in these areas of the world and for those who didn’t. They’re now seen in sterling silver, gold and other metals and the designs vary as much as the men and women who wear them.
I absolutely love seeing so many people taking the time to learn about West Indian culture and the history behind the jewelry they’re wearing. It gives me pride that the popularity of these beautiful pieces of jewelry has exploded over the years.
I’m also proud to continue the tradition of hand crafting Bayras for my family. Each piece I create reminds me a bit of home, and I hope they help you keep the Caribbean spirit with you at all times.
*Edited for accuracy on 29 June 2020. With thanks to those of you who give us the opportunity to improve.