A Maasai Bride's Treasured Trove

A look into the traditional jewellery that a Maasai bride adorns on her wedding day.

Beaded Gifts (2021) by Vibhor YadavProject FUEL

Beadwork Jewellery

Beadwork jewellery is an important part of Maasai culture. For centuries, jewellery has been used as an everyday adornment to represent social aspects established in the community, like age sect and marital status. They are also given as gifts at ceremonies and to visitors as a sign of gratitude and respect.   

Generations to come (2021) by Vibhor YadavProject FUEL

Traditionally, the art of beadwork was passed from generation to generation, with mothers teaching their daughters when young. 

Anna Sileyan (2021) by Vibhor YadavProject FUEL

Bridal jewellery is a more elaborate affair, with many parts that are worn from head to toe. To know more about bridal jewellery, we spoke to Anna Sileyan, a Maasai woman in the Losimingori village of Arusha, Tanzania.

Rafael (2021) by Vibhor YadavProject FUEL

How did she meet her husband?

She married her husband Rafael in March 2015. Traditionally, the bride's parents choose the groom, but Anna chose Rafael as her husband after meeting him in the market where she worked as a waitress in one of the restaurants. 

Anna (2021) by Vibhor YadavProject FUEL

Her parents were initially forcing her to marry someone who was not ready for her marriage. She shares, “I was only able to complete my primary school and Form 1 because of Rafael. The other boy came to school and asked for me to be removed.”

Elisha (2021) by Vibhor YadavProject FUEL

She is now happily married to Rafael. She has a child named Elisha, which means “Lightness”.

Not without jewellery (2021) by Vibhor YadavProject FUEL

Jewellery, water and sugar

In December 2014, two months before her wedding, she received bridal jewellery. As per the traditions, the groom has to buy the jewellery, and his mother brings it to the house of the bride. Along with it, she also brings water, sugar and clothes.

Beaded necklace (2021) by Vibhor YadavProject FUEL

Some norms are followed for marriage, Anna shared. “For example, between the engagement and the marriage, you are not allowed to see the bride.” Another norm is that the groom cannot bring his bride without the jewellery. Even if he has to sell his cows, he must buy jewellery."

Anna's sister-in-law (2021) by Vibhor YadavProject FUEL

Anna’s sister-in-law, Nesriyan, makes bridal jewellery and sells it in the market. She graciously agreed to show us how the bridal jewellery is adorned.

Anna's wedding (2021) by Vibhor YadavProject FUEL

Bridal Jewellery

Here is what the bride wears, along with their traditional names in Maa language.

Headgear: Imusitani

Neckpiece: Isosini. 

Earrings: Naimindi

Bracelet: Emarinai

Big chain with cross: Emusalaba

White teeth chain: Ingalashe

Anklets: Imusitani Waongejek

Beadwork of Maasai Culture (2021) by Vibhor YadavProject FUEL

Shifting traditions

With the passage of time, there are many changes that can be seen in Maasai society. Earlier, the bridal jewellery was made by the mother of the bride. But now, they are mostly bought in the market.

Credits: Story

Project FUEL would like to thank the Maasai community in the Losimingori village of Arusha, Tanzania for opening their hearts and home to this research. 

This exhibit is part of the Wise Wall Project, an initiative of Project FUEL, to document, design, and strengthen the wisdom of rural communities and marginalized villages using art and community outreach programs. In the third edition of this project, we collaborated with the Maasai, in Arusha, Tanzania, to build an on-ground community centre for the people and bring an exclusive insight into the life, lifestyle, and learnings of this inspiring community.

Photography: Vibhor Yadav, Siddharth Govindan
Wall Murals: Poornima Sukumar
Canvas Art: Advithi Emmi
Cultural Consultant and Translators: Kaay Ndoika Lengima, Elisha Olchakai Kirumui and Lemali Ndoika

Research, Interviews and Curation: Project FUEL
Project Partners: Vijana Inspiring Foundation, Vikram Solar Ltd., Lions Club of Dar es Salaam and Arusha, Google Arts & Culture

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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