Tag Archives: symbolism

Unearthing the messages behind traditional jewellery

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Image Devotion, bravery, status. Love, womanhood, marriage. Unity of family, harmony of community and balance of nature.

These are just a handful of the core concepts the Maasai people hold in high regard. Though ideas circulate amongst generations, consolidated by the advice of mothers and the command of elders, nowhere is social value granted a more elegant expression than in the art of beadwork undertaken by the women of each community.  Women of the Maasai have the age-old habit of gathering together before, after and in-between their daily chores to craft beautiful jewellery. More so than simply pursuing aesthetical quality, these women make jewellery to the ends of social and personal expression, and the grandest meanings can be found in the tiniest motifs. From the length of a pendant to the color of an ornament each piece of jewellery is rife with symbolism; so rife, in fact, that an insider can even tell a woman’s status by observing it.

The talented Maasai women pour their love and care into their beaded work. Every necklace is unique. Do you ever wonder what meaning can be attributed to your own Lotusland piece? We thought it’d be cool to do a little investigation into the motifs of Maasai jewellery – let’s find out!

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Colors

Crowds of foreign travellers and European fashionistas scouting for the next big trend have long been attracted to the sheer vibrancy of Maasai attire and jewellery. And all for good reason, too – they are simply breathtaking! Jewellery is where color lends expression to ideas, where a shade speaks a thousand words about an intriguing culture.

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Red

The color of blood can refer to the blood of the lion that a Maasai warrior must slaughter for honour, or equally the blood of the cow that the community sacrifices on the occasion of gathering. Red can thus mean the savageness and danger of the wild and the ferocity and courage the moran man exercises to protect his people. It can also denote unity of the community and even the daily trials and tribunals that the Maasai must learn to overcome.

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Blue

Nature’s beauty, blue represents the sky and the waters that nurture the Maasai’s cattle and provides the livelihood and sustenance for both people and animals of the land.

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Green

Green is intimately tied to the notion of land and territory since it is the colour of the grass that stretches across the vast Tanzanian plains on which Maasai dwell. It is the land that provides food for livestock and people, and where the people’s roots lie. Because so many facets of Maasai culture are inextricable from their physical land, land has sacrosanct status. However, recent land disputes between the government and local farmers coveting the same resources have raised many concerns about Maasai communities. On another note, in the Maasai community a kind of green plant called the olari grows lush and tall – the Maasai hope their people will flourish just like these plants. Green herein can symbolize growth and hope.

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Orange

This is the color of warmth, hospitality, generosity and friendship mainly because it is the color of the gourd in which Maasai people offer milk to their visitors. The color itself is a smiling greeting to both intimate acquaintances and new friends alike; it is a reflection of typical Maasai amiability.

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Yellow

Yellow is also symbolic of traditional Maasai hospitality because it is the color of the cow hide with which guest beds are covered for comfort. In addition, yellow is the color of the majestic sun that gives the world light, warmth and energy, prompting the growth and keeping the health of people and livestock.

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White

White is the classic shade of purity, chastity and virginity. For the Maasai white means even more, because it is the color of milk, a staple of their diet and a core source of nourishment for the people. According to Maasai belief, the cows that provide this milk are pure and chaste animals that the heavens bestowed upon the people to help sustain themselves.

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Black

Black is the color of the people, color of the night and color of communion in the face of difficult times. The Maasai know that many difficulties are present in every individual’s life. They believe trials and tribunals are only natural and that harmony and solidarity are indispensable in overcoming them.

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Another recurrent motif you may have noticed in our jewellery is a round beaded disc layered together by rings of colourful beads. This disc is reminiscent of the “circle of life”, a part of the Maasai system of beliefs about the universe and their natural environment.

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In the feral African plains, life and death are not associated with injustice. Instead, they are but a part of a larger circle of life that reigns over all of Earth’s living things. For example, the gazelle mother may lose her baby to the hungry cheetah, but it is not so much a regrettable act of animalistic cruelty than an unavoidable result of a natural hierarchy of predator and prey. Because all animals need other forms of life for their own sustenance, and are themselves the source of sustenance for others still, life is fragile and volatile. But that’s how things are. Life is a jungle and everyone must be on guard at all times.

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Indeed living on the open plains of east Africa means that communities must learn to coexist with a great diversity of animals. Though they draw their subsistence from cattle, the Maasai are deeply reverent of the wild creatures and beasts that share their land and rarely interfere with this circle of life they respect.

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Unfortunately, man encroach more and more upon the kingdom of animals and interfere with the natural procession of predator and prey. Biodiversity and animal populations are being rapidly razed by global economic growth. Preoccupation with development means that perhaps much more weight is accorded to the latter than to the former. Yet for the Maasai, priorities are inversed.

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The prominent circle of life motif symbolizes life and death just as nature intended. Working beautifully in concert with colors encapsulating age-old Maasai wisdoms, our jewellery brings you a breath of air from the heart of the untamed African plains.

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