Kenyan passion for beaded jewelry
North Kenyan tribes of Samburu and Rendille may differ in the languages they speak, but have the same passion for beaded jewelry. Beaded bracelets, necklaces, head adornments worn mainly for their beauty, can also tell much about relationships, special events and customs. Beaded jewellery is not only tradition, but a sophisticated and evolving fashion. From their young age, the girls are offered strings of beads by their fathers. The first layers of necklaces are usually red, as it means the girl is engaged (which can be at a very early age).
You can spot teenagers by the abundance of their beaded jewellery – before getting married they can allow heavy beaded necklaces and head decorations. The girls are usually given such decorations by their boyfriends of family members. Once married, she has to remove the giant necklace, and give it back to her ex boyfriend, thus to forget him … This happens when parents have already chosen another man for the girl, from another clan.
To show his love to the girlfriend, a boy needs to buy her a huge necklace, but the price is too high. It should be noted, the price for beaded jewellery is normally not much than 100 US dollars. But even such price is too high for most of the teenagers.
The women wear a lot of decoration on the head, made from buttons, from sequins and beads. All those decorations are expensive and most of the times, they show status and wealth. The beads also refer to different periods of importance in the women life, as special patterns are used for special events. A necklace can be read as a history of their lives, it also can be seen as a diary. The famous Mpooro Engorio, the wedding necklace is worn for ceremonies. It is made of giraffe or elephants tail hair, special beads that were formerly found in Ethiopia, and that are becoming very rare. The Mpooro Engorio necklace has become rare as the giraffe and elephants have nearly disappeared from the region.
The cross has no religious significance, though most of North Kenyan tribes are now Christians
Marnay bracelets made of beads and inner tubes are worn by everybody – adults and children
Brass ankles: when they wear just one, it is called Surutei, when they wear many, it is called Surutia.
Each color has a meaning: white is purity and health because it represents milk which comes from a cow, black is hardship, yellow and orange melted are for hospitality because it is the color of the animal skins on guest beds, red signifies danger, bravery and unity.
Necklaces can even have magic powers: If a woman is childless, she must see a witch doctor who will give her a collar of pearls. She must go to the first born man of a house, tie him with the necklace, and then leave with it. Three months later, she may be pregnant. On the other hand, the man that she tied up with the necklace will become crazy or sick (the fortune of one will be the misfortune of the other).