The Maasai tribe is well known for its vibrant beaded jewellery with its signature bright colours and intricate patterns. This Kenyan tribe loves anything with the colours red, green, purple, dark blue and vibrant orange. Learning the art of making beaded Maasai jewellery is considered the duty of every Maasai woman and is worn both by men and women. The beads also hold cultural significance as they reflect the wearer's age and social status according to colours and designs. Generally, individuals of high social standing adorn themselves with more colourful and intricate jewellery.
This beautiful bead jewellery is used as a form of adornment throughout their daily life, ceremonies and rites of passage. The colours and the structure of the necklaces indicate a person's age, social status, marital status, and even whether a woman has given birth to a boy or a girl.
Unmarried Maasai girls usually wear a large flat beaded disc surrounding their neck while dancing. They use the movement of the disc to display their flexibility and grace. On the day of their wedding, women wear a very elaborate and heavy beaded necklace. This necklace is often knee-length. A married Maasai woman wears Nborro, which is a long necklace with blue beads.
The Maasai have been creating bead jewellery for a long time now and make use of natural resources such as wood, clay, copper, bone and brass to make them. Interestingly, glass was made available to them by the Europeans who started trading with them in the late 19th century.
The colours used on the jewellery are symbolic and have significant meanings:
Red stands for bravery, unity and blood.
White symbolizes purity, peace and health. The association with health comes from cow's milk which is a significant part of their traditional diet.
Blue represents energy and the sky. Rain from the blue sky provides water to their cattle.
Orange symbolizes hospitality. The association with cattle is that visitors are served cows' milk from orange gourds.
Yellow, just like orange, symbolizes hospitality.
Green symbolizes health and land. Cattles graze on the green grass of the land.
Black represents the people and the struggles that they go through.
We hope this article was enlightening and you gained a better understanding of the Maasai culture through their eye-catching beaded jewellery!