Kenya Beads are beads originating in the East African nation of Kenya. Kenya has a diverse culture consisting of as many as 42 different ethnic groups including the Nilotic Maasai people who are one of the better-known tribes. The major Kenyan populations can be classified as the Bantus, Nilotes, and Cushites. Beads play an important role in Kenya’s culture and are a widespread form of artistic expression. For example, among the Maasai, beads are often used as fashion accessories and may be found as earrings or other traditional ornaments for both women and men.
Several major types of beads are currently made in Kenya. The Batik Bone Bead is a handcrafted bead that is made by dying bleached and polished cow bone. The Batik method refers to the use of a wax coating to create various patterns and designs such as stripes and whorls. An alternative name for these beads is Mudcloth Beads since a similar dying process can be used to pattern textiles. Many of these bone beads come from Nairobi, the capital of Kenya. Similarly, a number of metal beads have also been produced in Kenya including the copper, brass, and other Metal Hishi Beads. Borana tinsmiths in the northern parts of Kenya are known for making many small beads using the material from recycled aluminum cooking pots.
The Turkana people of northwest Kenya are one ethnic group that is especially known for its rich tradition of adornment including beading. They are Kenya’s third largest tribe. In Turkana society clothing is used to distinguish between different age groups, marital status, and economic position. Women often wear multicolored necklaces and also wear beads in their hair. There is also a tradition to wear Ostrich Eggshell Beads as part of one’s undergarments. The many different shapes and sizes of beads in Turkana society reflect different meanings. Many of these African beads were acquired through traditional trading practices especially pink Venetian glass beads and Blue Annular Beads worn to this day by Borana Tribal Elders.