The Maa Trust
During a recent trip with Asilia to the Masai Mara in Kenya, I had the privilege of visiting a beading workshop to learn more about the Maasai tribe’s vibrant art form. It's mesmerizing to watch the women at work: Their fingers move in a kaleidoscope of colour as they deftly scoop up beads and thread them one by one. They make the meticulous process look effortless.
Maasai beadwork is bright and colourful, but there is symbolism attached to the different colours.
Beadwork has been an important cultural practice and source of income for the Maasai tribe for hundreds of years. It’s considered a woman’s duty to master the craft, but both women and men wear the accessories to showcase their age and social status. Creations like necklaces, bracelets, and belts also play a role in the tribe’s weddings and community events. (For example, a woman will wear an elaborate beaded neck piece, called an enkarewa, when she gets married.)
The careful process of threading beads into an elaborate piece of jewellery.
Colour and Craft
Bead colours are selected for their beauty, but also carry symbolic meaning. Black represents the people and the struggles they endure. Red stands for blood, bravery, and unity. White is for health, peace, and purity. Yellow signifies the sun, fertility, and growth, while orange is for friendship and warmth. Blue is for the sky and energy.
Patience and a steady hand are crucial in this intricate process.
The Maasai originally relied on natural resources such as bone, clay, and wood to create their jewellery. But trade with Europeans in the late 19th century made glass beads available and glass has been the main material used ever since. Today, the Maasai people are widely recognized for their stunning beadwork and their creations have become popular souvenirs for tourists to purchase when they visit Kenya.
Ladies creating beadwork at The Maa Trust share a lighthearted moment.
The Maa Trust
This is where Asilia’s partnership with The Maa Trust, a non-profit organization that’s dedicated to addressing the needs and wishes of the Maasai people, comes in. The Maa Trust’s largest social enterprise, Maa Beadwork, allows women to sell their beadwork directly to tourists and earn their own income. The women then invest that money in their children’s school fees and home improvements like installing a water tank in the family home. (The latter eliminates the need for women to go out to fetch water and gives them more time to spend on beadwork, which in turn helps them become even more economically productive.)
Ladies create beaded items for use in safari camps and to sell to tourists.
This year, Asilia was the top contributor to the Maa Trust’s beading program: It donated US$25,000 that was generated by the US$5 per night that guests pay when they stay at the safari company’s camps. It also sent thousands of its guests to the Maa Beadwork studio to learn about the program and purchase souvenirs.
The finished products on display at The Maa Trust.
Travel With Purpose
It’s important to me that I make responsible choices when traveling and I love that Asilia prioritizes and protects the needs of the Maasai tribe. It gives me peace of mind to know that by going on safari with Asilia, my footprints are leaving a positive impact on this special part of the world.
Erika Hobart is a Japanese-American travel journalist and photographer based in Marrakech, Morocco. Her work covers stories that span the globe, featured by notable publishers National Geographic, BBC Travel, Lonely Planet, Travel + Leisure, and Fodor’s Travel.
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