Beaded Stories: Bringing Ancient Maasai Jewellery to the World

Step into the world of the Maasai community in Arusha, Tanzania.

Maasai earrings (2020) by Sam VoxProject FUEL

Bringing Maasai beadwork to the world

The Maasai in Tanzania are known for their colorful adornments and exceptional skills in beadwork. The local jewellery company Sidai Designs have since 2011 empowered women in Arusha by offering them job opportunities using their skills. Together they have created designs that fuses traditional with modern, giving them a contemporary aesthetic appeal. The collaboration ensures the preservation of the age-old African beading tradition and has given the community the opportunity to use their skills to empower themselves. Today, Maasai beadwork is gradually gaining popularity across the world and has become a symbol of empowerment for the women who make them.

Maasai jewellery (2020) by Sidai DesignsProject FUEL

Meet the artisans

It is traditionally considered a social duty for women to learn how to make beaded jewellery in the Maasai in Arusha, Tanzania. The jewellery is not only a symbol of beauty, but is also seen as a cultural and social symbol. The skills are handed down through generations and each piece tells a unique story of its wearer, family and tribe.

There are 12 full time beaders at Sidai, who are empowering the women to grow and help financially sustain them with supplementary income that supports their semi-nomadic lifestyle. From grandmothers, to young girls, farmers to cooks, every beader is doing their bit to lead an empowered life.

Maasai earrings (2020) by Sam VoxProject FUEL

Recycled materials
Recycled thread from old grain bags is used for beading, and pieces of recycled plastic from yogurt pots are used to hold the thread in place. The beads are threaded through these strings one by one.

Neema, a silversmith (2020) by Harjono DjoyobisonoProject FUEL

In Tanzania, using tools, fire and chemicals is widely considered men’s work. The female Maasai artisans have been trained in using new tools to cut metal in order to create new designs. Some of the techniques include filing, annealing, soldering, buffing and polishing.

Inspiration behind the Warrioress Collection (2020) by Hayley ZieroldProject FUEL

Symbols of warriorhood and strength
The textures and patterns are inspired by the ceremonial attire and old artefacts owned by the Maasai community. The arrow symbolises the Maasai warriorhood, an integral part of their culture and identity.

Selina, a silversmith (2020) by Harjono DjoyobisonoProject FUEL

The warrior technique
One of the traditional beading techniques used by the Maasai community is called the warrior technique. Traditionally, male warriors are adorned with beaded armour, which is gifted to them by the proud women in their lives. The Warrior Technique used at Sidai Designs preserves the traditional ways in which these pieces are made in the village, using thread salvaged from old grain sacks and boning cut from plastic canisters. The artisans use this same technique to create modern jewellery.

Neema Studs (2020) by Sidai DesignsProject FUEL

The power of the arrow
The symbol of arrow is a recurring element in Maasai jewellery. It pays homage to the Maasai Morans or warriors.

The Warrioress Collection (2020) by Sidai DesignsProject FUEL

The shapes are inspired by the traditional Maasai jewellery items like collars (disk like necklaces) and earrings. The collars are mostly worn during special occasions. Women use a particular motion for their neck while dancing, to create a bounce-like movement for the collars.

Maasai Necklaces (2020) by Sidai DesignsProject FUEL

Modern necklaces
Using the age old skills, Maasai women have carved a new path for themselves to create their own identity, preserve their heritage and become financially independent in the process.

A young Maasai woman (2020) by Sidai DesignsProject FUEL

Using the age old skills, Maasai women have carved a new path for themselves to create their own identity, preserve their heritage and become financially independent in the process.

Credits: Story

Project FUEL would like to thank Sidai Designs for creating this exhibit and the Maasai community in Monduli, Arusha for opening their hearts and home for this research.

Images and Products by Sidai Designs

Sidai Designs works in collaboration with a number of Maasai women to create handmade, contemporary jewellery and accessories. Derived from the Kimaasai word, ‘Sidai’, means ‘good’ or ‘beautiful’. Their mission is to preserve age-old African beading tradition, work to create sustainable jobs and economic opportunities for Maasai women, and produce unique pieces that blend beading customs with a contemporary aesthetic. They are based in Arusha, Tanzania.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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