In a message dated 2/14/2009 3:14:35 P.M. Eastern Standard Time, shawn@ispiral. com writes:
As others have already noted, and as I suspected in the first place, it is a Yoruba (Nigerian) diviner's belt and no, it isn't used to hold up trousers but is part of a priest-diviner (babalawo)'s regalia and is meant to be attached to the wearer, vertically. Sometimes you will see them refered to as "Gelede belts" or "Gelede Sashes." Gelede refers to traditional masquerades honouring female ancestors that serve to drive malevolent forces from the community and restore social order. Gelede masquerade costumes are quite colourful. Related masquerades for male ancestors called "Egungun" feature costumes that often have layers of fluttering panels, some resembling these 'Diviner's Belts" but usually made out of quilted. embroidered fabric rather than heavy beading. I mention it because I am myself a bit suspicious of their association with these masquerades. As far as I have been told their original use was in relation to divinatory
practice. Perhaps someone more knowledgeable can clear this up.
Traditionally, beading was done by male priests. Most of these items these days are made to be sold to collectors, as the ethnographically used ones are very rare these days and very dear on the collector market. Most are quite colourful, the white ones less common, but not really rare, if that makes sense. I think from the collector market sense, brighter ones sell better and since most are made to be sold outside of Nigeria these days, brighter is more attractive, not necessarily better.
Valuations are according to age, use, workmanship, size etc. I have seen these priced from as low as USD 24 for smaller (3"x 3-4'), simpler, newer ones, anywhere to well over $400.00 USD.
Newer ones made for the collector market can have wildly non-Yoruba themes depicted. I did see one that had N American Indian designs as that is what the beader had been commissioned to make! The Yoruba spirit in me cringed.
Poke around eBay and search for "diviner's belt" or "diviner's sash" or "beaded sash" or "beaded wall hanging" etc. on individual searches of the entire website and you may develop an idea of various asking prices for these. You can also Google them but truthfully most of the hits you will get are from eBay anyway. So you did get a nice African souvenir, just not with a true origin in Kenya where purchased. I got mine from a dealer in Colorado, if I remember right, so you are at least closer to the source! :-)