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Maasai beadwork – The Making Of


It’s all about cattle

Beadwork has provided an important source of income for the Maasai tribe for hundreds of years. The Maasai used natural resources around them to create their jewelry - everything from clay, wood and bone to copper and brass.

In the late 19th century trade with the Europeans made glass beads available across the trade routes in Africa. The Maasai started using these glass beads to make their necklaces, bracelets, and other jewelry. Today glass is still the main material used by the tribe for their beads. Maasai beadwork became significant and famous to the rest of the world in the 19th century after trade with other tribes.

The colours in the beadwork are selected for their beauty, but also have symbolic meanings for the Maasai.



Often these meanings have an association with cattle, which is the Maasai's main food source and with which they have a deep connection.

In this way

White -  The white cows milk which the tribe drinks to stay healthy. Represents peace, purity, and health.

Black - The people and the struggles they endure.

Blue – The sky, the energy. Rain falls from the blue sky which provides the water for the cattle

Red - Bravery, unity, and blood. Red is the color of cows blood. Often a cow is slaughtered when the Maasai meet.


The beading process

Kate Sau, from the Hadithi team, brings all the beading materials that we sourced (leather, threads, needles and beads) to the Maasai ladies. At the gathering place (often under a shady tree, a traditional meeting place) Kate talks through the specifics of an order with the group. Kate explains the details of the order which may have been sent from a designer based overseas.

An experienced beader will work with Kate to get the first sample exactly right. Once the sample is approved, the ladies sit together until everyone is comfortable with the design. Now the artisan can also take the work home and continue beading in their own time, in their own homesteads. They need to make sure the sample design is followed and the beads are nice and straight in lines and colours.



When they are ready, Kate picks up the beaded strips from the women's group and pays the them. The rest of the steps to make the beaded leather strip into a perfect bracelet, happens at the Hadithi headquarters. Many steps need to be carefully done! A few more Maasai ladies are employed at the HQ to help Kate to finish the bracelets.

Backing leather is cut into long strips, then the front leather pieces all get glued onto that strip. Then the ladies cut the leather straight on every piece, trim the edges, heat-emboss a logo on the back, ink the sides, pierce holes and make and fix the cords…

After every bracelet is cleaned a last quality check is done.