Every Piece of Maasai jewellery Tells a Story of Status, History, Wealth and Place in Life
Massai are one of the most known tribes throughout the world. They live in vast areas of Kenya and Tanzania.
Massai are known as very beautiful people as they are tall, slender and have soft features. Their clothes are bright and colorful in shades of red and blue. As colorful as their clothes is also their jewelry. For outsiders it might seem that the Massai just like to wear colorful glass beads without realizing the story full of history and symbolism behind it.
Every piece of Maasai jewellery tells a story of status, history, wealth and place in life
Of equal importance is the shape, pattern and color of the jewelry. Especially colors have a great deal of symbolism and meaning behind them. That is true for all cultures of the world as every nation or culture connects different colours with different meanings. The colors that have special meaning for Massai are red, blue, green, orange, yellow, white and black.
Meaning of Colors in Maasai Jewelry
Red is thee same color as blood and it has different meanings behind it such as bravery, danger and strenght. It also carries a very special meaning or unity because when communities come together in celebration it is typical to slaughter a cow so blood is spilled.
Blue is the color of sky which is essential for life of people and cattle. Green is the color of land and land gives life to plant which feed the people and cattle. It is also the color of the plant olari which incites to Massai growth and plentifulness.
The gourds in which they store the milk are orange and because offer milk to all visitors this color symbolizes hospitality.
Yellow has the same meaning as the color orange because guest beds are covered with animal skins which are colored yellow.
White much like in many cultures represents purity but in the Massai culture that is because white is the color of milk.
Black in away is the color of the people and life. It represent the obstacles we all come across in life. All this symbolism comes from the Massai believes that all the cattle on Earth belongs to them. Because they are cattle-breading people their life and existence is intertwined with the life, health and number of their livestock. In the Massai community wealth is measured by the number of children and cows that a man owns.
There is also a strict separation between men and women. The man take care of the cattle and women take care of everything else so the beaded jewelry is made by women sitting together after they have fulfilled their other obligations like taking care of children, bringing the water, cooking, building the house…
The Massai people always wear the beaded necklaces, that goes for both men and women, but some of the jewelry is only worn on special occasions so it has a specific meaning. This special occasions are engagement, marriage and the coming-of-age ceremony for man.
Marriages are traditionally arranged between the parents of the children and when the parents come to an agreement the engagement is on. That means that the mother of the bride has to make to pieces of jewelry for her daughter.
One is a beaded necklace with intertwined stings that tells the community that the woman is engaged. The second piece is a collar covered with beads in geometrical shapes with beaded strings hanging from the front of the collar. This piece of jewelry doesn’t represent only the bride and her family but the whole community. On her wedding day the bride wears a special marriage collar that is only worn on that day.
There are also collars that are worn by women for dancing but they are without the beaded strings and women usually wear multiple collars. The most important moment in every Massai boy’s life is when he becomes a man by killing a lion usually at the age of 18. Being successful at this task he receives a wooden spear and beaded shield which represents manhood.
Another big part of Massai culture are age classes. All the children that are born in one generation or age class which is marked by a decade wear a pendant that is the same for men and women of that generation.
Each piece of Massai jewelry is unique representing the unique features of the person wearing it.