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Thursday, 25 September 2014

History of Maasai handmade bead jewelry

By James Koinare
Beadwork has been an important part of Maasai culture for many years. It was normally done not for commercial reasons, but as a cultural beautification practice that is endowed with diverse beadwork patterns and styles for respective groups in the community with every group (Morans, Young ladies, and Elders) with its own design.
The Maasai have been creating bead jewelry well before their first contact with Europeans. They initially used the natural resources around them to create their jewelry. These natural resources included; clay, wood, bone, copper, and brass.
In the late 19th century trade with the Europeans made glass beads available to the Africans. The Maasai started using these glass beads to make their necklaces, bracelets, and other jewelry.
Today glass is still the main material used by the tribe for their beads. Some of the colours used include; orange, green, yellow and black.
Maasai's from Laikipia on a  bead work exchange visit in Kajiado
The orange usually symbolizes hospitality. This is associated with cattle as visitors are always served cow milk from orange gourd. Yellow also symbolizes hospitality. Visitor’s beds are always yellow in colour. Green symbolizes health and land as cattle graze on the green grass of the land while black represents the people and the struggles that they endure.
Maasai women used to set aside time every day to meet and work on beaded jewelry which includes colorful necklaces, bracelets, and pendants. Sometimes back it was considered the duty of every Maasai woman to learn the jewelry making craft.
All the tribes’ beadwork is made by the women but is worn by both women and men. The jewelry that they create is not only beautiful but also has important cultural significance. The beadwork an individual wears will signify their age and social status.
For the Morans, the mothers were assigned with the duty of making sure that their sons looked smart in order to win the most beautiful girl in the village. 
Unmarried Maasai girls often wear a large flat beaded disc that surrounds their neck when dancing. They use the movement of the disc to display their grace and flexibility.
During wedding days, women would always wear a very elaborate and heavy beaded necklace that hangs down to the brides knees.
Generally individuals of high social standing will wear more colorful and intricate jewelry. Beads also serve as an important source of income for the Maasai. Tourists visiting the Maasai regions in Kenya and northern Tanzania will find many beautiful pieces for sale that make great gifts for women and men. Often the Maasai will wear or give bead jewelry for special occasions.
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