Indo-Pacific Beads

Indo-Pacific beads are a huge deal in the bead world, both archaeologically and artistically. Just as I would be completely remiss if I didn’t discuss seed beads, I would be almost even more remiss if I didn’t discuss Indo-Pacific (or IP) beads.

The term “Indo-Pacific” was coined by Peter Francis Jr., who defined them as small, drawn, monochrome, glass beads. This is almost identical to the definition of seed beads (small, monochrome, glass beads), with the very important distinction that IP beads are drawn. This is a very specific style of manufacture that distinguishes these beads from small, monochrome, wound beads or beads made any other way. What’s important about the distinction is that it essentially makes the IP beads non-European, because nowhere in Europe really made drawn beads.

IP beads are still seed beads, though. They’re just a very specific type of seed bead.

beads-2IP beads, as you’ve probably guessed, are found mostly in the regions around the Indian and Pacific Oceans. They are still made in many parts of South and Southeast Asia today, and are still highly important in many Indo-Pacific societies. The most common colors are an opaque reddish-brown or orangey-red and a translucent blue-green.

There are some other terms floating around for IP beads. First, there’s mutisalah. Mutisalah comes from Indonesian for “false pearl,” and is used to talk about small, opaque reddish-brown beads. However, in certain places, mutisalah means any heirloom bead that is opaque orangey-red or opaque reddish-brown. But notice that neither of these definitions specify that the beads are drawn. Mutisalah can mean drawn, wound, folded, or molded beads, so long as they are small and either orangey-red or reddish-brown. Bottom line: mutisalah and Indo-Pacific are two different terms for different kinds of beads. Some IP beads are mutisalah, and some mutisalah are IP beads, but they are not always the same thing.

IPBut there’s another complication. Mutisalah is actually further divided into three subcategories: mutitanah, mutibata, and mutiraja. Mutitanah are small, drawn, reddish-brown beads, whereas mutibata are small, drawn, orangey-red beads. Mutiraja are actually reddish-brown or orangey-red coil beads made with lead and generally made in China. Mutiraja are/were only worn by the elite (it translates as “King’s pearls”), whereas mutitanah (translation: “earth pearls”) and mutibata (translation: brick pearls) are/were worn by commoners.  So the diagram looks more like this:

mutisalahAnd then if we take seed beads into account, we get this:

seed beadsSo if you’re studying Indo-Pacific beads, make sure you also know about mutisalah beads and all their various forms, because many earlier scholars used the terms interchangeably or called them mutisalah without distinguishing which were mutibata, which were mutitanah, and which were mutiraja.


About Heather Christie

Heather is an archaeologist, photographer, and writer whose research focuses on beads and bead trade, particularly in a maritime sense. She's currently working working on a PhD in Digital Design (focusing on heritage visualisation) at the Glasgow School of Art.
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8 Responses to Indo-Pacific Beads

  1. Pingback: Mutisalah Celtic Fusion Bracelet | Stringing the Past

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  7. This is how they make Jatim beads

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