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WILDLIFEDIRECT

"WildlifeDirect is dedicated to changing minds, behaviour and laws to ensure Africa’s critical species endure forever.”

Empowering communities living with Amboseli Elephants “Turning challenges into opportunities:”

We have lived for thousands of years with wildlife in the greater Amboseli Landscape. We are a proud people with strong and colourful traditions that have always respected wildlife and nature. By protecting our magnificent wildlife, we play a major part in Kenya’s economy. We therefore are advocating and boosting the alternatives of livelihoods that enable us to protect and co-exist with wildlife such as beading and selling of beaded products Our bead work project celebrates our traditions and skills in beading, our culture of cooperation and our sense of pride in our community. The profits that we make will improve our lives, support the education and health of our families. The impact of our work will be felt around the world as it brings pleasure to people very far away and remind them to come back to Kenya. We are happy and proud that through this work, we are also helping to save the magnificent elephants of Amboseli.

We are proud and humbled for the support from H. E. Margaret Kenyatta, The First Lady of the Republic of Kenya, the United Nations Development Program, WildlifeDirect Kenya, Big Life and the Kenya Wildlife Service for helping us to achieve our dreams.

Visit the WildlifeDirect site for more.

Cultural History

The early Europeans in East Africa reported a Maasailand heavily populated with villages in a country full of big game. The peoples inhabiting the region were as much a part of the environment as the wildlife. The Maasai's success in conserving their environment without threatening the existence of the region's wildlife can be attributed to pastoralism itself. Most pastoralists lived on marginal land largely unsuitable for agriculture. Like hunter-gatherers, pastoralists migrate over a large territory, leaving the land time to recuperate before returning to it. They move between wet and dry season pastures in a deliberate attempt to conserve dry season fodder. In the Amboseli region, this annual migration results in a 50 percent increase in carrying capacity. This system of migration allowed the Maasai to exploit their ecosystem to its fullest without damaging it.

Traditionally, Maasai did not eat their cattle but drank milk and blood instead. They did not eat wildlife except during a severe drought. Such a system enabled the Maasai to thrive and share their ecosystems with wildlife such as elephants, zebra, wildebeest, giraffe and buffalo.

The traditions and folklore of the Maasai

The Maasai live in Boma’s, or kraals arranged in a circular fashion. The fence around the kraal is made of acacia thorns, which prevent lions from attacking the cattle. It is a man's responsibility to fence the kraal. While women construct the houses. Traditionally, kraals are shared by an extended family.

The Inkajijik (maasai word for a house) are loaf-shaped and made of mud, sticks, grass, cow dung and cow's urine. Women are responsible for making the houses as well as supplying water, collecting firewood, milking cattle and cooking for the family. Warriors are in charge security while boys are responsible for herding livestock. During the drought season, both warriors and boys assume the responsibility for herding livestock. The elders are directors and advisors for day-to-day activities. Every morning before livestock leave to graze, an elder who is the head of the inkang sits on his chair and announces the schedule for everyone to follow.

The Maasai are a semi-nomadic people who lived under a communal land management system. The movement of livestock is based on seasonal rotation. Contrary to many claims made by outsiders, particularly the Hardinian school of thought, this communal land management system allows us to utilize resources in a sustainable manner. Each section manages its own territory. Under normal conditions, reserve pastures are fallowed and guarded by the warriors. However, if the dry season becomes especially harsh, sections boundaries are ignored and people graze animals throughout the land until the rainy season arrives. According to Maasai traditional land agreement, no one should be denied access to natural resources such as water and land.

Jewelery

Traditionally the Maasai made beads from clay, wood, bone, copper and brass. In the late 19th century the British brought glass beads which have since replaced the traditional beads.

The beadwork an individual wears will signify their age and social status. Generally individuals of high social standing will wear more colorful and intricate jewelry. Beads also serve as an important source of income for the Maasai. Tourist visiting the Maasai regions in Kenya and northern Tanzania will find many beautiful pieces for sale that make great gifts for women and for men. Often the Maasai will wear or give bead jewelry for special occasions. Below is a list of some examples of this use.

  • Unmarried Maasai girls often wear a large flat beaded disc that surrounds their neck when dancing. They use the movement of the disc to display their grace and flexibility.
  • Women will wear a very elaborate and heavy beaded necklace on their wedding day. The necklace often hangs down to the brides knees and can make it very difficult for her to walk.
  • A married Maasai woman will wear a Nborro, which is a long necklace with blue beads.

Only Maasai women do the beading which is worn by both men and women. These different adornments are worn by the tribe members throughout all stages of life. The colors and the structure of the necklaces can indicate someone’s age, social status, marital status, and even whether a woman has given birth to a boy or a girl.

The colors of the beads are chosen for their symbolic values. Each color has a meaning that is often related to cattle which are the man source of wealth for the Maasai.

Red symbolizes bravery and strength, and unity as it is the color of the blood of the cow that is slaughtered when the community comes together during celebrations. 

Blue symbolizes energy and represents the sky, the giver of rain for the cattle. 

Green stands for the land, which grows food for the cattle. It symbolizes health and production. 

Orange and yellow  represent friendship, generosity and hospitality because they are the colors of the animal skins on guest beds. 

White represents purity, as it is the color of the milk from the cows, considered by the Maasai as pure and holy animals. 

Black symbolizes the people.

Cultural Significance of Maasai Bead Jewelry

The jewelry they create is not only beautiful but also has important cultural significance. The beadwork an individual wears will signify their age and social status. Generally individuals of high social standing will wear more colorful and intricate jewelry. Beads also serve as an important source of income for the Maasai. Tourist visiting the Maasai regions in Kenya and northern Tanzania will find many beautiful pieces for sale that make great gifts for women and for men. Often the Maasai will wear or give bead jewelry for special occasions. Below is a list of some examples of this use.

  • Unmarried Maasai girls often wear a large flat beaded disc that surrounds their neck when dancing. They use the movement of the disc to display their grace and flexibility.
  • Women will wear a very elaborate and heavy beaded necklace on their wedding day. The necklace often hangs down to the brides knees and can make it very difficult for her to walk.
  • A married Maasai woman will wear a Nborro, which is a long necklace with blue beads.