February 9, 2012

Fragile Beauty of the World

Many a times i wonder, how is it that people living out far in remote villages, indifferent to any "worldly progress", without any access to formal education, information, technology or modernization, can design and make inspirational art and fashion pieces in ways no-one else can ?! Perhaps, the very lack of any external influence should be one of the dominant reasons, don't you think? Nature has its way to build creativity in you, if you let it. 

Throughout the world, ethnic groups are characterized and identified by such unique dressing and ornamentation. The Maasai - a semi nomadic tribe located in Kenya, are perhaps, one of the most widely recognized people in terms of their customs, dresses and beaded ornaments. Beaded ornaments with bright colors, intricate patterns, layers and layers of which sit on the collar bone, become headdresses and adorn the wrist of men and women alike. Like every other craft, Maasai ornaments also seem to have their own history, symbolism and a strong social meaning.

Traditionally, before the glass beads were easily available, local raw materials such as seeds, skins, copper, bone, gourd and wood were used in the craft. Till date, Maasai women sit together between their daily tasks of looking after the children, milking cows, cooking, constructing homes, keeping an eye on their cattle and make beaded jewelry. To this day bead work is an important means through which women demonstrate their social understanding and creative capability. Beauty is considered very important to their culture and they would invest a lot of time to make it perfect. It is created and given to each other within the community on special occasions such as celebration of a successful hunt, newly engaged couples and on several other ceremonial occasions. 

Because the Maasai are traditionally pastoral people, much of the color symbolism relates to cattle - mostly cows. Each color has it's own significant social meaning and if that intrigues you, read on to find out which color represents what...

Red signifies danger, ferocity, bravery, strength and unity in particular because red is the color of cow's blood which is slaughtered when the community gets together in celebration.
The sky gives water to the cows and the color Blue represents that. 
Green represents the land which grows food for their cattle to eat. Green is also the color of a local plant called 'Olari' which grows tall and plentiful, just as the Maasai hope to. 

The gourds that hold the milk and offered to visitors are colored Orange so that's the color of hospitality and so is Yellow owing to the color of animal skins that cover guest beds.
White is the color of purity and health as it is the color of milk, which comes from cows - considered by the Maasai as a pure and holy animal and 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.

Quite Amazing isn't it?!

I read on Wikipedia that the Tanzanian and Kenyan governments have instituted programs to encourage the Maasai to abandon their traditional semi-nomadic lifestyle. If enforced, these fragile beauties might lose their beautiful age old customs, traditions and craft skills to the daunting modern civilization and become one of the crowd not so different from us! 

Talking of fragile beauties, you all must have heard about the severe drought that has stricken several areas of East Africa. If you feel for it, please do what you can. You'll be surprised how much $5 can achieve in that world!! We do not endorse or favor any particular organisation but for your convenience, here are a few links you can make your donations through: Global Giving-USGlobal Giving-UKOxfamWorld Food Program, Care. 

Much peace and love for all!

Image Credits: Eric Lafforgue
Information Source: Maasai Education


Leslie Nelson said...

Beautiful imagery and interesting content. I love the colors!

The Green Elephant said...

Thanks Leslie! Am glad you liked it :)

Jen McMahon said...

When is your next TGE event? Your items are beautiful and so unique. Would love to know when you are in San Diego next?

The Green Elephant said...

Thanks Jen! We have an office in San Diego and we are doing an event with Ashtanga Yoga Confluence from 1st to 4th March at Catamaran Resort in San Diego. Maybe you could visit then? Will send you details if you might be interested.

Jess said...

Your work is amazing.

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