What the jewelry means

An outsider might think that Massai people have dressed up for some special occasion. This is normally not the case though. Although some jewelry is worn for special occasions (such as for marriage or circumcision ceremonies) most jewelry is worn throughout an entire stage of life. For example, indicating her increasing wealth and her place in life, a married woman adorns beaded necklaces as she grows older. Each piece of jewelry, in its shape, patterns, and colors, speaks of the wearer’s culture. People within that culture can tell a woman’s exact status–her age, marital status, even whether she has given birth to a son–by observing her beaded jewelry.

  • 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.

Red signifies danger, ferocity, bravery, strength, and especially unity, because it is the color of the blood of the cow that is slaughtered when the community comes together in celebration.

Blue is significant because it represents the sky which provides water for the cows.

Green represents the land which grows food for the cattle to eat. Green also represents the health of the Massai community because there is a local plant called olari which grows tall and plentiful, as the Massai hope they will too.

Orange symbolizes hospitality because it is the color of the gourds that hold the milk that is offered to visitors.

Yellow also suggests hospitality because it is the color of the animal skins on guest beds.

White represents purity, because white is the color of milk, which comes from a cow, considered by the Maasai as a pure and holy animal. White also represents health, because it is milk that nourishes the community.

Black represents the color of the people but more importantly the hardships we all go through in life. It suggests that difficult times are experienced by everyone because those difficulties are part of the same, natural sequence of life.

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Maasai beaded belt

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