The concept of creating amulets with potent contents is influenced by traditions among different peoples from the African Diaspora.
The amulets of the Akan people in Ghana are called bansuri.
The Hausa and Yoruba people of Nigeria make tira, Afro Brazilians make patua, Bakongo peoples in the Congo make minkisi, and African Americans in the United States call their amulets mojo.
The physical manifestation of prayers and amulets is ubiquitous and connects to other cultural traditions as well- doaa nameh in Iran, scapulars for Catholics, and mezuzahs in the Jewish tradition.
The project has proven to be quite multicultural in its appeal.
Sealing the writings inside the beaded packets borrows from the African
amulet tradition that inspired the project. Historically, African amulets are
made from leather or cloth casings filled with sacred writings and other
tokens of power. Closing the amulets makes their contents inaccessible.
For the amulets that contain writings it is the presence of the word, not the
ability to read it, that yields their power. The casing acts as a veil elevating
the contents to an intangible and metaphysical realm. The power of secrecy
as discussed in Mary Nooter's "Secrecy: African Art that Conceals and
Reveals" (1992), is a significant factor in the healing process for many. To
one participant in the Beaded Prayers Project, an adult survivor of child
abuse, the sense of anonymity was the most meaningful aspect of the
project. For others the familiarity of keeping a wish secret like one does
when blowing out birthday candles is a familiar device.
Craft processes such as beadwork and embroidery have been used as a
means to unify, heal, and serve individuals and communities because they
are functional, familiar and often considered soothing. A well known
example of a contemporary collaboration using a craft tradition is the Names
Project AIDS Memorial Quilt. The Names Project grew out of the tradition of
mourning quilts. Started by a small group of San Francisco quilters, the first
public exhibition of the Names Project contained only forty blocks, each with
the name of a loved one who had died from AIDS. Two years later the project
had grown to include over ten thousand blocks and weighed thirteen tons.
The amulets in the Beaded Prayers Project are smaller, lighter, and more
portable than the quilt blocks in the Names Project, yet the power of
accumulation is as essential. The project continues to grow simply by word
of mouth and the "each one teach one" model.