Masai women of marriageable age wear stiff, flat beaded collars. Only a married woman may wear a string of long blue beads called Nborro. A moran or warrior wears strings of beads across his chest and back plus bands of striped beadwork around his neck. He values arm and leg bands made by his mother or girlfriend as signs of love. When a warrior becomes an elder he gives up his beaded adornment, but is entitled to carry a beaded tobacco container.
The colours of beads are symbolic as follows:
- Blue is for God and the sky he lives in.
- Green is for vegetation after rainfall, peace and the grass to sustain cattle.
- White is for milk and other pure things.
- Red is for blood, especially the blood of cattle which is mixed with milk for food.
- Black is for rain.
The sequence of black, green, red and white beads represents the life cycle: black rain nourishes green growth that matures, turns red and, finally, completely dries up and turns white.
The Masai culture of Kenya is a good example of the way beads can be used as symbols of wealth or status; for rite of passage of special age, class or gender; as counting tools; as means to ward off evil spirts or help cure disease; as decorations, particularly at ceremonial occasions; or for trading. Some people pass special beads from generation to generation for the maintenance of cultural tradition.
There are Masai beads in some of the African Collection range