Often times when I am selling the Esiteti women’s jewelry people will ask me what the beads in Maasai culture represent so I thought I would write a brief post to answer that question. For hundreds of years the Maasai have handcrafted jewelry in the form of beadwork; before the arrival of Europeans to Kenya/Tanzania in the late 1800’s the Maasai used items such as sticks, shells, seeds, dried grasses and other natural materials to make beads but with the arrival of Europeans came the trading of supplies with the Maasai for glass beads which are similar to the Maasai beads we see today. Maasai beadwork embodies the whole of Maasai culture representing beauty, strength, tradition, warriorhood, marriage, age sect, marital status, social status and their deep love and devotion for their cattle. When women get married a special wedding collar is made for them by their mother and represents the whole of their village, traditional wedding collars have several beaded strands hanging off the collar these strands represent the dowry (#of cows) that will be given for the bride; although this collar is reserved for the wedding day women will wear similar layered collars in everyday life and in ceremonies as a sign of wealth and beauty. For both Maasai women and men beauty is a very important aspect of Maasai culture and the beads are used as a form of adornment throughout everyday life, ceremonies, and rites of passage and is often given to visitors as a sign of gratitude and respect. The Maasai have always been known for their vibrant dress and colorful beadwork but what many people do not know is that each color bead represents a different aspect of the Maasai culture.
Red: Represents bravery, strength, unity and the incredible challenges Maasai people face each day
Blue: Symbolizes energy and sustenance and the color of the sky which provides water for the people and their cattle
Green: Symbolizes nourishment and production, representing the land that provides food for the people and their livestock while also symbolizing the putting down of roots and the protection of one’s territory
Orange: Symbolizes warmth, friendship, generosity and hospitality, representative of the color of a gourd which is used to share milk with guests and welcome visitors into one’s home
Yellow: Symbolizes fertility and growth, representing the color of the sun which helps grow the grass to feed the livestock and sustain life
White: Represents purity and health symbolizing the color of cow’s milk that provides sustained nourishment
Black: Symbolizes unity, harmony and solidarity, representing the color of the people and the daily struggles they endure each day
Hope this post was enlightening and you have gained a greater understanding of the depth of Maasai culture; a culture that continues to endure the ever expanding modern world.