The Maasai culture is one of the most easily recognised African cultures, identified by the bright beaded ornaments that they wear. Necklaces, headdresses, and bangles are common accoutrements of the Maasai. While modern trading in glass and other beads have changed the appearance of these traditional accessories, the beads have a deep historical significance to the culture. Creating Maasai bead crafts is an opportunity to learn about the rich history and traditions of the culture.
Historically, the beads were fashioned from seeds, skins, metal, bone, gourds, and other available materials. The beadwork was given in special ceremonies, such as at engagements, rites of passage and after successful hunts.
One of the most recognisable Maasai creations is the traditional wedding necklace that young brides wear. It is constructed of very small beads on thin strands layered next to each other until the necklace is several inches thick.
Colour plays a significant role in Maasai beadwork. Much of the symbolism surrounds the cow, because the Maasai consider it a holy animal. Red, the colour of the cow's blood that they drink, symbolises bravery and unity. Blue symbolises the sky, which provides water for the cows. Green represents the land which provides food for the cows. Yellow represents the colour of the sun. White, the colour of milk, represents purity and health. Orange, the colour of the gourds in which milk is served, symbolise hospitality.
Make Beads for Crafts
There are countless types of beads and ways to make them. However, a simple type of bead can be made by kneading eight slices of white bread (with crusts removed) with one half cup of white craft glue and three drops of lemon juice. After the ingredients are hand-mixed they will form a ball that can be mixed with a small amount of paint for colour. The clay can then be rolled or patted flat on a flour-dusted surface. The beads can then be shaped. The clay should then be left to dry for two hours, when a hole can be made in each bead with a wire or toothpick. The beads should finish drying before use.
Maasai wedding necklaces are generally made from small beads aligned in multiple layers. The necklace, when finished, is often biblike and large. The beads are typically arranged in triangular patterns. Long strings of beads often dangle downwards. Children can make imitation necklaces by cutting a neck-sized hole in the centre of a large paper plate and gluing beads to the remainder of the plate.