Maasai people and their bead work
A brief personal account of the Maasai:
The Maasai are probably one of the most recognised people of East Africa, due, in main, to their very distinctive dress.
The men are traditionally seen wearing their red shukas, rather like a blanket, worn around their shoulders. As children, we would always wave madly at these Maasai men, as, when they waved back, we would try and see if they wore any underwear!!! Around their ankles, wrists and necks they wear beaded bands, in bright colours. The young warriors braid their hair, and dye it red – looking quite magnificent, and a little frightening!
The women more usually have either shaved heads, or very short hair. They wear fantastic beaded necklaces, rather as a large plate-like collar. They also wear many other beaded adornments such as bracelets, earrings. They look quite spectacular and yet never appear over dressed, as we would if we tried to dress like this!
The colours used in these beaded pieces of jewellery, are said to have a meaning, the blue being the sky, the green the plants, red for bravery, white for the milk of their cows, orange for hospitality, yellow for the sun, and black for themselves, and the hardships they suffer.
Today, seeing the Maasai people in their traditional dress, you often seen signs of the modern world in which we now live amongst their beaded adornments. Hidden in a necklace there may be safety pins, soda can pulls or other signs of the 21st Century, a real blend of the old and the new. There is also usually a mobile phone tucked into a waist band.
Traditionally, the Maasai are herders, keeping cattle and goats. These provide their main food source, and they are known for puncturing a cow’s neck and releasing blood into a gourd. This is then mixed with the cow’s milk, and provides a rich source of protein and nutrients. They usually live in small groups, in a circle of acacia thorn ‘hedges’ to keep them safe from predators.
Today, many of these Maasai homes are open to visitors, where they can go and see just how the Maasai live. This also gives them the opportunity to share stories of their way of life, and to sell some of their hand crafted bead products.
Here at Bazaar Africa, we have a range of Maasai hand crafted items. As they are so very adept at making beaded products, they have diversified into making things that will appeal to the Western market. Not only jewellery, but trinket boxes, and baskets, and other items for the home. One of these products that Bazaar Africa finds to be the most popular, and admired, is the range of leather beaded dog collars. These are all made from free-range beef leather, and lined with softer goat skin. The bead work comes in a variety of designs and colours, and the brass buckles are made from recycled brass.