Hello and welcome to the Southeast Asian Bead Circle. We are not sure exactly what is going to come of this project, but for now we are starting a newsletter dedicated to beads, bead collecting and bead research in Asia, especially Southeast Asia. Beads are important to Southeast Asia in several ways.
For one thing, Southeast Asia has historically been a crossroads of trading from nearly every corner of the globe. It has long been influenced by the two ancient civilizations on either side: India and China. It has provided a trading link between them, and between the Far East and the West -- from Roman, though Early Islamic and down to modern times.
In the early colonial period, mainland Southeast Asia, Indonesia, Borneo and the Philippines were important trading stations that linked the entire globe together. The colonial experience brought even more cultural influences into the region.
Secondly, Southeast Asia has been a source of bead materials and beads for millennia. Pearls, gold, tortoise shell, amber, precious stones, and other bead materials are in the lands and seas of the region. Stone, precious metal and glass beads were made in many parts of Southeast Asia; today there are beadmakers in nearly every country in the area.
Thirdly, there is a long-standing love of beads among many Southeast Asians. Some treasure heirloom beads 1000 or more years old. Many groups in the region make beads from a wide variety of materials. The mainstream, urban cultures do not generally treat beads this way, but as people awaken to the value of tracing their own rich cultural roots, they have begun to appreciate bead lore.
Last, but not least, there is a growing interest in beads by many Asians. An increasing number of archaeologists, ethnographers and historians are acknowledging the value of bead research and the tempo of bead studies is quickly accelerating. Among collectors, beads are seen as aesthetically pleasing and as culturally relevant as textiles or ceramics.
There are sometimes tensions between the academics and collectors. Museum and university staff fear that an interest in bead collecting will lead to even more looting of archaeological sites and the destruction of the story of the past before anyone can read it. We agree -- this is to be condemned. Collectors sometimes find academic people too "stuffy" or not interested in displaying beads in their museums. This also is true; the public has a right to see what has been excavated or collected when it interests them.
We hope to bridge both groups. We believe both scientists and collectors can work together for everyone's benefit. It is in a spirit of cooperation that we launch this newsletter. We hope you enjoy it.
Who We Are
Peter Francis, Jr. is Director of the Center for Bead Research in Lake Placid, N.Y., since its inception in 1978. Francis has traveled widely to lecture and research. He has spoken or studied at many universities and museums in Southeast Asia and elsewhere. He has written hundreds of articles, dozens of monographs and Beads of the World.
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