In East Africa, beadwork has been a part and parcel of peoples’ lifestyle since time began. Nowhere more so than amongst women of the Samburu and Maasai tribes in Kenya. For these women, beading is entwined in their culture. A duty they learn from a young age and an activity over which to socialise with friends after completing chores.
For many years, beads were a major commodity and were exchanged with merchants from the furthest reaches of the world for gold, ivory and other goods
In the beginning, women used shells, seeds, bone, wood - an array of nature’s prettiest raw materials from which to make their beads. Traditionally, the thread used was elephant hair as it was believed to bring good luck. In the sixteenth century, glass beads from Venice and later Bohemia (now Czech Republic) began to make their way along trade routes to Kenya’s interior.
The beads were highly desirable and easily transportable nature made them an essential trade item. Nowadays, beadwork remains a central aspect of the Maasai and Samburu cultures. It has stood the test of time. Although no longer a form of currency, beads are seldom worn purely for beautification alone. Rather, they are highly symbolic of communal values and play a central role in major life events such as the coming of age, marriage and having children.
In today’s age of ecommerce, handcrafted Kenyan beadwork has become an iconic African style, sought after by celebrities and international fashion designers alike
Maasai and Samburu communities have a deep connection to their cows. As nomadic pastoralists, their livestock is everything. This is represented through their beads, which are traditionally six main colours: red to represent blood and unity when cows are slaughtered at important ceremonies; white to represent purity and health from the cows’ milk that nourishes them; green, symbolising the pastures on which their livestock depend; black to represent the people and the hardships they endure; blue to signify the life-giving rains from the sky; and finally orange and yellow, a symbol of generosity when visitors drink milk from an orange gourd. Beads capture their whole world.
We support a small women’s beading cooperative in Nairobi who create the charming beaded glasses, belts and other items you will find in our online store.
— Giraffe Manor Shop
Recently, our talented ladies have been adorning stunning sets of beaded leather hip flasks. There are three sizes to choose from, each in a different shade of smooth local leather (sustainably sourced, of course!) with a beautiful beaded swirl on the front. Inspired by traditional beadwork colours but with a modern twist, our hip flasks are the perfect gift for those that have it all.