ABOUT THE PROJECT
Basecamp Maasai Brand was initiated in 2003 with the aim of empowering disadvantaged women’s groups in the Talek region of the Masai Mara in Kenya, and to maintain and enhance the handicraft skills, knowledge and designs of the Maasais’ famous bead and leather work. The Maasai have a rich heritage in beadwork, where many of their traditional ceremonies and religious beliefs are expressed in colour and pattern.
Over one hundred women are working with us and making a positive change in the area. The women’s’ training takes place at our arts and craft center at Basecamp Masai Mara. We base our range on traditional designs with some conventional pieces and some more contemporary fusions, and all our products are handmade with a high-quality finish.
We mainly work with Maasai glass beads and high-quality leather but we also try to utilize scrap metal and waste materials wherever possible. Even the thread we use is made from disused plastic food bags, the strands of which are twinned together by hand. It will take you a bit of extra time to tie a knot and some patience to thread a loop, but, that is part of the beauty of the work and a character that we are trying to preserve.
Our fair trade agreement ensures that the craftsperson receives 75% of what BMB sells the item for, less the cost of materials. The women are involved in the process of pricing – the cultural significance of the product being one of several influencing factors. Typically their earnings are used for improved housing, healthcare, children’s schooling and clothing. The women individually also save some of their earnings in a savings scheme set up in cooperation with Faulu Kenya. By choosing to support this project you are making a difference and helping to build a sustainable source of income for these women.
MAASAI AND THE BEADS
Glass beads have in big quantities come to Africa from Europe and India as trading goods. Beads were traded as a currency for tea, coffee and sugar etc, and also as a popular payment for slaves during that long dark period of Africa’s history. Although, old traces of ancient glass beads have been found and shows that small amounts of Egyptian and Roman beads came south over the Sahara to Kenya already B.C.
The beads soon became very popular all over and for some tribes, they become a symbol of their traditions, although the small colorful beads themselves are a rather late invention. Before the glass beads spread to East Africa the Maasai and other tribes used seeds, shells, wood, bone and other natural materials for their ornaments. Nowadays the Maasai use the small colourful glass beads for their jewelry.
The Maasai beadwork carries messages, from where you are and to which age group you belong. The patterns and colors in a bracelet are for instance made uniquely for each age group and its the women sitting down together beading that decides the style of the new jewelry they are making for their sons, husbands and boyfriends.
The colour fields in the Maasai jewellery are rarely large and divided by contrast colours The Maasai hardly ever puts similar colours next to each other. A darker or brighter field must always divide the fields of colour. Contrasts are seen as beautiful and as a natural state. There must be night if there is a day, peace if there is war, sun if there is rain, when two opposite colour stand next to each other then it’s in their eyes beautiful.