Wood Badge Beads

Ok, here is the full story. The back story. And the parts that no one tells you about. One of my favorite tokens of the Wood Badge experience are the Wood Badge beads. Participants that have completed their ticket wear two. Staff wear three. Directors/Scoutmasters wear four. The head of BSA National Wood Badge wears five. The Director at Gilwell wears the six that Baden-Powell owned. Each takes an increasing commitment.

Everyone knows the story of Baden-Powell taking them as a war trophy from Denizulu. As Denizulu escaped, Baden-Powell picked them up and later used them as a recognition of his advanced leader training. He gave one out for completing the course and one for the ticket. Wolf teeth went to Cub Leaders. All that has changed to the sequence I listed above over the years. Another note is that after his death, they gathered as many of the beads as remained and BP’s son presented them to one of Denizulu’s descendants to return the beads. In the ceremony, the rightful heir returned them back to Scouting.

But, what were those beads for. We know that they were for recognition of valor and bravery in combat. I liken them to the eagle feathers that the American Indians earned. Today, we use eagle feathers (in OA and elsewhere) as a representation of high honor. The eagle feathers are from endangered species that we long ago quit taking. In fact the Indians typically killed the eagle to obtain them. Times change, so do we.

Times change, so do the beads. BP’s original beads are not as crude as ours. And Denizulu’s are a representation, too, from the original Zulu warrior recognition. It may be tough to imagine, but the original awards were from the knuckle bones of fallen warriors. Many years later, they started to carve the beads into the shape of bones. Making less and less like the original as tastes change. The honor is still there, but the meaning & value have changed from something that was a token of military savagery to modern leadership service.

Posted in Wood Badge Facts