Maasai neck
in Art of Handmade

The Story Behind Maasai Beaded Jewelry - Il Ngwesi

You’ve probably already seen them; those big and colorful beaded jewelry pieces of jewelry worn and handmade by the Maasai tribe from Kenya. This jewelry on Discovered is handmade by the women of Il Ngwesi. Bright colors and intricate patterns are traditional of the Maasai style. However, there is much more to it than just beautiful beaded jewelry. Did you know about the symbolism and the social meaning of this craft? If not, read on.

Traditional Maasai Jewelry in Kenya

The beaded handmade jewelry from the Maasai women is a tradition from this tribe, located in Southern Kenya. The Maasai have been creating beaded jewelry for a very long time. It all started long before the first European contact had occurred. Before, the tribe used natural resources to create their jewelry. Clay, wood, bone, copper and brass are just few of the materials that were used. When trade with Europeans started in the late 19th century, glass beads were suddenly available, and it is with those that the Maasai decided to continue their tradition of beaded jewels.

Woman with Maasai jewelry Woman with Maasai jewelry

Maasai women are the ones in charge of the beading. It's their duty to be able to craft such unique jewelry that is later worn by both men and women. The beaded jewels accompany the tribe through all stages of life. Indeed, the colors and the structure of the necklaces can indicate someone’s age, social status, marital status, and even whether a woman has given birth to a boy or a girl.

Colorful with Meaning

The colors of the jewels are not only chosen because of the beautiful ensembles they make, but also for their symbolic values. Each color has a meaning that is often related to cattle. Cattle are the main food source of the Maasai and they sustain a deep connection with them.

The Colors of Maasai jewelry

Red symbolizes bravery and strength, but above all, unity as it is the color of the blood of the cow that is slaughtered when the community comes together during celebrations. Blue symbolizes energy and represents the sky. The sky is of great importance because it provides rain for the cattle. Green stands for the land, which grows food for the cattle. It symbolizes health. Orange and yellow represent hospitality because they are the colors of the animal skins on guest beds. White means purity, as it is the color of the milk from the cows, considered by the Maasai as pure and holy animals. Finally, black symbolizes the people and all the struggles they must endure.

The beaded jewelry by the Maasai women represents the strong culture and tradition of the Kenyan tribe. Have a look at the colorful jewels by the women of Il Ngwesi on Discovered. Now that you know the meaning behind the colors, pick the one that resembles you most!

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