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The Beadwork of the Samburu

Traders started bringing tiny seed beads made in the Czech Republic to Africa about a hundred years ago. The Africans then strung, weaved or sewed them onto leather transforming the humble seed beads into works of art. The combination of colour, blocking techniques and patterns are skilfully used to make all kinds of adornment - jewelry, bags even skirts.

Both men and women wear intricate beadwork as shown by this colourful photograph of Samburu men. The Samburu live in north central Kenya and are related to the Maasai . They share a similar language and are semi-nomadic pastoralists like the Maasai.

Samburu women wear their beads differently, favouring loads of mostly red bead necklaces which form a thick collar like the picture shown here. The wealth, marital status, even the age of a woman or the children she may have borne are all reflected in her jewelry. Red and white are important colours for the Samburu and Maasai for red represents the blood of their cattle and white the milk - both of which are important foodstuffs.

African beadwork shows what amazing designs can be created from just seed beads. There are numerous cultural and tribal differences - the Zulus are known for their beaded love messages and the Dinka men for their unusual beaded corsets.

Photo credit : Hairpants' wife on Flickr.

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