The meaning behind the intricate and colorful Maasai beaded jewelry

The colorful Maasai are well known in Kenya, however, some are also settled in Tanzania and are believed to be over 3,000 years old. The Maasai are considered to be one of East Africa’s most internationally well-known tourist attractions. Most of them practice nomadic pastoralism while others are working in the tourism sector, displaying their culture to tourists.

Now occupying a much smaller area in the Kajiado and Narok districts since their vast territory has been taken over by some of Kenya’s game reserves, the Maasai are one of the most popular and unique ethnic groups in Africa due to their long preserved culture.

The most prominent cultural marker, aside from their way of dressing, is their rich traditional handmade bead jewelry. This beadwork remains a major part of their existence and culture for many years. It is documented that the Maasai women set time aside off work to craft beautiful necklaces, bracelets, and pendants worn during rituals, weddings, and other community events.

It is considered a necessity for every Maasai woman to learn to make Maasai jewelry for both males and females and the beadwork is mostly done at night where the women gather around to create their masterpieces.

Maasai beads were initially made from materials like bone, copper, brass, clay, seeds and wood before Europeans introduced synthetic materials like glass. The method for stringing the beads has however remained the same

These beads demonstrate the social status and age of individuals and families. Those high up the social ladder wear more colorful and intricate beads. Different kinds also tell the marital status of women.

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