The Maasai Tribe - Jewelry

Deborah Bair

Middle School 143

Kenyan Flag


The Maasai tribe lives in the African country of Kenya.  As a proud Kenyan tribe, their clothing and artwork are necessities for survival and are integral to their identity as Maasai.  The women of the tribe are known to wear very intricate and beautiful beadwork during their weddings and on other special occasions.  During the bridal ceremony the brides, as part of their "bridal costume", wear gorgeous, beaded jewelry.  In addition, the village and community take part in making and dressing the bride, as they feel it is the whole tribe's responsibility to prepare the bride for marriage.  Please read on to find out more about the Maasai bridal costume.

The jewelry of the Maasai tribe is always made by women (relatives and fellow tribe members),
as this is one of their many jobs.  Leather, beads, and sisal plants are used as the main materials in these intricate designs.

Men and Cattle
The men of the Maasai tribe are responsible for raising the cattle from which the leather for the jewelry will be made.
The cattle are also used as currency for the purchase of the beads.

woman with wall art
Beads were not commonly used in jewelry until the 1900's.  Although beads were introduced to the Maasai
tribe in the 1800's by the Arabs and East Indians, they did not become popular until the 1900's.  Prior to using
beads, the Maasai mostly used copper and brass wire, in addition to plant seeds, to make their jewelry.  Glass
and plastic beads are now commonplace.

 Wedding Jewelry Wedding Necklace
Here you can see the intricacy of the Maasai's beadwork.  The detail and colors used in the beads must follow
the strict rules of the tribe.  The beads are classified as either primary or secondary colors, with white, red, green, blue and orange classified as primary colors and yellow and black considered secondary colors.  Women are allowed to exchange orange beads for yellow ones if they run out of orange, and are allowed to substitute black for blue, when needed.  However, placing a primary color
next to a secondary color is seen as unacceptable and a woman should be very embarassed if her jewelry reflects this mistake.

Find out more about the Maasai.  Learn about the food, education, and rituals of the tribe.

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