Symbolism of Maasai Jewelry

Recently RoHo added Fair Trade Maasai jewelry to our collection, which has really resonated with our customers! In addition to it being beautiful, there's an incredible history and meaning to the vibrant colors we see in traditional jewelry.

For hundreds of years the Maasai have handcrafted jewelry in the form of beadwork. Before the arrival of Europeans to Kenya and Tanzania in the late 1800’s, the Maasai used items such as sticks, shells, seeds, dried grasses and other natural materials to make beads. With the arrival of colonialism came the trading of supplies with the Maasai in exchange for glass beads. These glass beads very similar to the Maasai beads we see today.

Maasai beadwork embodies the whole of Maasai culture representing beauty, strength, tradition, warriorhood, marriage, age sect, marital status, social status and their deep love and devotion for their cattle.

When women get married, a special wedding collar is made for them by their mother and represents the whole of their village. Traditional wedding collars have several beaded strands hanging off the collar representing the dowry in cows that will be given to the bride's family. Although this collar is reserved for the wedding day, women will wear similarly layered collars in everyday life and in ceremonies as a sign of wealth and beauty.

For both Maasai women and men beauty is a very important aspect of Maasai culture and beads are used as a form of adornment throughout everyday life, ceremonies, and rites of passage and are often given to visitors as a sign of gratitude and respect. The Maasai have always been known for their vibrant dress and colorful beadwork but what many people do not know is that each color bead represents a different aspect of the Maasai culture.

Red: Represents bravery, strength, unity and the incredible challenges Maasai people face each day

Blue: Symbolizes energy and sustenance and the color of the sky, which provides water for the people and their cattle

Green: Symbolizes nourishment and production, representing the land that provides food for the people and their livestock. Green also symbolizes putting down roots and the protection of one’s territory

Orange: Symbolizes warmth, friendship, generosity and hospitality. Orange is representative of the color of a gourd which is used to share milk with guests and welcome visitors into one’s home

Yellow: Symbolizes fertility and growth, representing the color of the sun which helps grow the grass to feed the livestock and sustain life

White: Represents purity and health symbolizing the color of cow’s milk that provides sustained nourishment

Black: Symbolizes unity, harmony and solidarity, representing the color of the people and the daily struggles they endure each day

Hope this post was enlightening and you have gained a greater understanding of the depth of Maasai culture; a culture that continues to endure the ever expanding modern world.