Here at RoHo we’re honored to partner with a Fair Trade group of Maasai women who handcraft our beautiful jewelry collection. There is a strong history behind the Maasai people, and it is important to learn about this history to better connect to and understand their culture.
Based in Kenya and Northern Tanzania, the Maasai people are a semi-nomadic group who have maintained their unique ways of life including their language, their dress, their beadwork, their cattle-based economy, and so much more. Continue reading to learn more about each of these topics.
Language and Lifestyle
The Maasai people speak a language called Maa, which is unique to the Maasai people. They have maintained this form of communication through the resistance to Western colonization, and their linguistic systems revolve around the trade occurring within their tribe. The economy of the Maasai revolves mostly around their cattle, which will be discussed later in this post. The Maa language is one of the many things the Maasai have fostered as traditional and historical.
The Shuka and Beadwork
The artistic creations and traditions of the Maasai are fascinating and beautiful, ranging from the clothing they wear to the jewelry they make. The Maasai wear what is called shuka, a word meaning “sheets” in Maa. Usually red in color with black or blue checkered patterns, shuka are thick and heavy, protecting the Maasai from harsh weather. These articles of clothing were adopted by the Maasai after they were introduced to manufactured cloth, leading to them replacing their traditional leather hides.
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. You can read more in depth about Maasai beadwork in our blog post titled “Symbolism of Maasai Jewelry”.
The Maasai are well known for their cattle and cattle-herding culture. Cattle are important in every aspect of the Maasai peoples’ lifestyle, including the economy, their religious and ceremonial traditions, society, and basic daily needs.
The Maasai economy relies on the exchange of cattle as currency, which is used mostly to strengthen ties and loyalties. In addition, milk is the main source of sustenance for the people of this tribe. Women of the Maasai tribe are large providers in this situation because it is their job to milk the cattle and provide the entire tribe with this food staple. Lastly, during all the ceremonial rites of passage such as birth and death, cattle are used as sacrifice to symbolize the peoples’ bond with Ngai (the monolithic Supreme God in Maasai religion).
Why It All Matters
The Maasai people are an extremely unique, resourceful, and culture-influenced group of people that have withstood the test of time. They have maintained strong relationships with their religion, cattle economy, societal traditions and art forms, proving that although they seem a world away, they are not so different from us.
Here at RoHo we aim to not only appreciate the works of art the Maasai women share with us, but also the privilege of experiencing a new culture. We also hope that after reading this post you too will come to recognize the beautiful relationship we have built with this beautiful group of women.