The meaning behind the Maasai bead work.


Maasai tribe are naturally known for their traditional home-made bead work. Women here set to work on the art work almost every day. They can gather around whether outside or inside the huts and start beading over a topic of gossip.

The jewellery includes the works of a simple colourful necklace, bracelets and pendants. It is customary for the women to know how to do beading. Even though the beading is handmade only by the Maasai women, men can also wear them.

Most important thing the Maasai people believe in throughout their belief is cattle and children. In their everyday prayer the two words CATTLE and CHILDREN is mentioned.

Significance of the Maasai beading

The bead work on the women signifies her age, and social status. Generally individuals of high social standards will wear more colourful and intricate jewellery. Tourists visiting these unique places in Kenya or Northern Tanzania are bound to find this magnificent artwork.

-Unmarried Maasai girls would wear the large flat disc around there necks, which shows their grace and flexibility when dancing.

-Women who are getting married would wear a heavier disc, often it reaches her knees, making it difficult for her to walk pace around

-Married women thus will wear Nborro, a long necklace covered in only the blue colour that goes until her knees too.

These women have been creating beads for a very long time and it has become more of a hobby then just a job. Before the Europeans, the tribe used natural substances that allowed them to make these special beads. They would use natural substances such as, clay, wood, bone, copper and brass. In the 19th century trade with the Europeans mad e grass beads available for the Africans.

The colours of the beads

Certain colours in the beading have different meaning.

The colours used in the beads are selected for their beauty. These beading pattern and colour have a symbolic and important meaning that is only understood by the clan.

-The red colour used in the beads stands for bravery, unity and blood, the red is for the slaughtered cow.

-White colour used is for the peace, purity and health. They drink the white cow’s blood to stay healthy.

-Blue, signifies the energy and the sky. They believe that with the rainfall it is able to feed their cattle’s and provide proper infrastructure for them.

-Orange, reflects hospitality. Visitors are served cow’s milk from orange gourds.

-Yellow, this unique colour also represents the hospitality like the orange. They place animal skin on visitor’s skin to differentiate them.

-Green, like the natural earth, symbolises both health and land. Cattle’s eat from this land. Almost similar to the blue colour that signifies the sky (rainfall)

-Black, represents the people and the struggles that they must endure through the journey of growing up.

The beading and structure on the necklaces and bracelet represents the age, marriage status, or whether which gender the woman gave birth to. Not all beading can be worn around; some of the beading can be only used in wedding, rituals and community events.

In the Maasai marriage the marriage is always arranged by the family. With the marriage being arranged, the mother will then do the beadings of which she will decide which of the beading will best suit the two on their wedding day.

Importance of the bead work during a wedding session

-The first bead strings is a sign that the woman is engaged. Each day the women and gentlemen wear bead work but these are different as they make sure that the strings are intertwined. The plaiting represents the interconnection between the two.

-The second item the mother makes will be a wedding collar. This is thus a large, flat, leather circle about 12 inches that is covered in colourful geometric shapes.

The collar found on the female neck represents the kind of place the soon-to-be bride comes from. The collar itself is used as a map in its own kind. The collar represents the structure of the village setup, the collar describes the place the Maasai woman comes from and how the structure of the village looks like. “When you are wearing this, you are carrying the village by the body.” The number of beads on the collar shows how many cows the man is willing to pay the in-laws.

Education system in the Maasai group

The education systems in Kenya (Maasai clan) are unsettled. It is believed that the women can’t go to school because of various reasons and most of which is because she might not want to get married at a young age and the husband’s family will reap the outcomes. The primary source of income for the Maasai clan is the cattle business.

Economy in the Maasai people

The Maasai people make their money through livestock selling it to other parts of the Kenya community, clothing and grains. These are either traded or sold, when traded they either trade for milk or siege. Tourism is one of the main things that bring money to the Maasai community. As a lot of beads are sold on that day.

Self-independent women don’t see the need to get married. This is because the female in the community feel as though the men deprive them of attending school, because the men here believe that the women will not respect them in any form. The working class will intimidate the male gender therefore, the men believe that the women are meant to sit at home and prepare the household chores.

Rituals and believe

They are different areas of the village and not all villages practice the same rituals and beliefs. Most men have been separated from the women because they don’t believe that a woman can lead and have the full say.




About Author

Lorraine is a South African based junior journalist with Nomad Africa magazine published by 2414 Publishing (Pty) Limited. She is very passionate about travelling and a lover of the African culture. Lorraine had a Diploma in Journalism from Rosebank College in Johannesburg, South Africa and worked as an intern with The Star Newspaper. Fluent in English and other South African languages she is very eager to learn about new cultures and traditions. Though she is still very new in the industry, Lorraine is vibrant and energetic for new travelling experiences.