Recently, I was organizing my jewelry drawer and came across a beaded bracelet given to me by a friend, and keychain that was a gift from a family friend who is from Kenya. Along with a pair of seed bead earrings I realized these were things I love to wear but knew so little about. Knowing there was a lot of special craftsmanship at play here I wanted to dig a little deeper and see what I could find about the craft.
Beadwork is an art-form that can be found throughout Africa as well as many parts of the world. Zulu and Ndebele women are known for their detailed beadwork designs, but I have to say that I am particularly drawn to the beadwork of the Maasai peoples who live in Kenya.
The Maasai women create these elaborate pieces (anklets, earrings, necklaces, hair adornments, etc.) that are worn for celebrations like weddings and religious ceremonies. The beads were originally made of seeds or clay, then when the Europeans began trading in Kenya the glass beads became an option. Most recently plastic versions are used, while shells, leather, and metal continue with the original tradition of being used in designs.
The Build A Nest organization had this to say about the women using the act of beading as a time to socialize:
"Beadwork plays an important role in bringing Maasai women together, and provides a space to socialize and share creative ideas. Often, women will sit together between their daily tasks and create beaded jewelry."
I love wearing pieces or using items in my home that are hand-made and come from hands with history or story to tell. Supporting fair-trade organizations that sell authentic beaded items would be a great way to support this Maasai tradition..
If you can't make the trip or get your hands on the real thing, these beaded items below speak to that lovely elaborate and colorful style.