A young woman wearing traditional Maasai jewellery (2020) by Sam VoxProject FUEL
For the Maasai in Arusha, Tanzania, each colour of the bead and pattern represents symbolism that is deeply rooted in their culture. The same is reflected in the type of jewellery they wear, the occasions when they don it, and the age-set they represent.
The Maasai necklaces can vary from a simple strand to heavy collars. Both men and women are seen wearing them.
Maasai Collars (2020) by Sidai DesignsProject FUEL
Maasai women wear collars on a more regular basis for dancing. These collars are generally large in diameter, without the attached square or the dowry strings. A woman may wear eight or ten of them stacked up.
Dance of the collar (2020) by Sam VoxProject FUEL
As the woman dances, she uses a particular motion to make the collars fly up and down.
Marriage in traditional Maasai communities is always an arranged affair, with parents choosing the most appropriate partner for their son or daughter. Once the match is decided, the mother of the bride will make two items.
A Maasai bride (2020) by Sidai DesignsProject FUEL
The first is a necklace of beaded strings that indicates the woman is engaged. Both men and women wear beaded-string necklaces as everyday decoration, but the engagement necklace is distinctive because the strings are intertwined.
The colours of Maasai beadwork (2020) by Sam VoxProject FUEL
The second item her mother will make is a wedding collar. This is a large, flat, leather circle about 12 inches across, covered in brightly colored geometric shapes formed from beads.
Maasai Bridal necklace (2020) by Eliza PowellProject FUEL
There is also a square section protruding from the front of the disk, with a number of long beaded strings hanging from it. The strings have cowry shells attached to the bottom. Every part of the collar represents some aspect of the bride’s community.
The Maasai stretch their earlobes using stone, wood, and bones. They usually wear beaded earrings on the stretched earlobe and smaller piercings on the top of the ear.
Koko Sadera (2020) by Sam VoxProject FUEL
Traditionally, both men and women stretched their earlobes, because long, stretched lobes were seen as a symbol of wisdom and respect. This tradition, however is slowly disappearing from the tribe.
Wrist and Arm Bands
Wrist and arm bands are worn by both men and women. Earlier young Maasai warriors used to wear an armband, known as the errap, made of leather and metal wire coils. Today they are mostly made of glass beads.
Maasai Copper Bangles (2020) by Sam VoxProject FUEL
Bangles made of copper.
Colourful beads adorn the ankles of both men and women.
Maasai Footwear (2020) by Sidai DesignsProject FUEL
Their footwear are sometimes decorated with beadwork. The shoes are made from recycled car tyres.
As part of their ceremonial wear, the Maasai women also adorn headdress, made primarily of glass beads. It is sometimes decorated with silver embellishments.
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.