The Colorful Maasai

The Maasai are famous and easily recognizable thanks to their traditional robe, the Shuka; it is a bright-colored cloth, predominantly red, wrapped around their lean and slender frames; red symbolizes Maasai culture and it is the color believed by these people to be able to scare off lions even from a great distance.

MAASAI

deangichuki

7/6/2021 2 min read

The Maasai are famous and easily recognizable thanks to their traditional robe, the Shuka; it is a bright-colored cloth, predominantly red, wrapped around their lean and slender frames; red symbolizes Maasai culture and it is the color believed by these people to be able to scare off lions even from a great distance.

 Maasai jewelry, created with beads and metal wire, are just as famous: men wear wrist or ankle bracelets, and sometimes belts and necklaces too, while women feature an explosion of color and jewelry: they wear tens of bracelets and big flat bead-decorated collars in various patterns and colors, that identify the clan they belong to and their social status.

The Maasai also have a long tradition of designing and making the ornaments and jewelry they wear daily; before coming into contact with Europeans, the materials used were derived from local raw materials, like white beads created with clay or shells, ivory or bone, blue and black beads were made of iron, coal, seeds or horn and red decorations were a product of seeds, woods, pumpkins, copper or brass.

 After the arrival of the colonizers all of these natural materials were replaced with glass beads, brought there from Europe, more colorful and with a smoother and brighter appearance; these new materials made it possible for more elaborated decorations to be created.

The different colors of Maasai garments and jewelry are important because they reflect several aspects of their culture:

 1. Blue is the color of the sky providing water in the form of rain, which is fundamental for the cattle;

 2. White is the purity of milk, a staple food and source of energy;

 3. Red is the most important color to the Maasai, it represents blood and a sort of protection against wild animals, it also stands for courage, strength and the unity within the Maasai nation;

 4. Green means the land providing food and nourishment, in the form of plants and vegetables, for the cattle;

 5. Yellow represents the sun, making life possible and orange means hospitality, friendship and the generosity of the Maasai people.

In recent times we’ve seen a lot of modern day non-maasai people rocking the attire as part of traditional regalia. Some have modernized the ornaments like a chocker for men to bring a little bit of spice to their look and the ankle and wrist ornaments to break off that their everyday look or make it appear exotic in a sense. A most recent example would be what Diamond Platnumz wore to the BET Awards Gala. Cultural appropriation? I don’t know, but it sure is a way to keep the culture alive and export to other places.