The Maasai culture is one of the most easily recognized African cultures, identified by their brightly colored, beaded ornaments. Necklaces, headdresses and bangles are common accessories worn by Maasai men and women. While modern trading in glass and other beads have changed the appearance of these traditional accessories, the beads have a deep historical significance to the culture. Creating Maasai bead crafts provides an opportunity to learn about the rich history and traditions of the culture.
Historically, the beads were fashioned from seeds, skins, metal, bone, gourds and other available materials. The beadwork was given in special ceremonies, such as at engagements, rites of passage and after successful hunts. One of the most recognizable Maasai creations is the traditional wedding necklace that young brides wear. It's constructed of tiny beads on thin strands layered next to each other until the necklace measures several inches thick.
Color plays a significant role in Maasai beadwork. Much of the symbolism surrounds the cow, because the Maasai consider it a holy animal. Red, the color of the cow’s blood that they drink, symbolizes bravery and unity. Blue symbolizes the sky, which provides water for the cows. Green represents the land which provides food for the cows. Yellow represents the color of the sun. White, the color of milk, represents purity and health. Orange, the color of the gourds in which milk is served, symbolize hospitality.
Make Beads for Crafts
There are countless types of beads and ways to make them. However, a simple type of bead can be made by kneading eight slices of white bread -- with crusts removed -- with one half cup of white craft glue and three drops of lemon juice. Mix the ingredients into a ball and add a small amount of paint for color. Roll or pat flat the clay flat on a flour-dusted surface and shape the beads. Let the beads dry for about two hours and pierce the center with a wire or toothpick. Let the beads finish drying before use.
Maasai wedding necklaces are generally made from small beads aligned in multiple layers. The necklace, when finished, is often bib-like and large. The beads are typically arranged in triangular patterns. Long strings of beads often dangle downwards. Children can make imitation necklaces by cutting a neck-sized hole in the center of a large paper plate and gluing beads around the edges.