What is the first thing you think of when you hear mention of Kenya? Is it the fantastical safari opportunities? The fiercely proud Massai tribes whom continue to defy modernity, and live an indigenous existence? Or is it the spectacularly colorful, handmade textiles borne from the "hands of the lands"? For most bead enthusiasts, the latter is probably appropriate. Kenyan beaded jewelry is one of the most widely replicated of all African adornment formats - largely because of it's distinctly 'tribal' style, coupled with it's eco-friendly appeal.
Kenya is up there with Ghana in the efforts to minimize environmental impact, which is why you'll find most beads sourced from the region are either recycled, or "of the Earth". In Kenya, "of the Earth" refers to materials realized through a natural process, or that stem from the result of natural necessity. Tribes such as the Massai are still wholly self-sufficient, and as such, cultivate their own cattle; create fire from dead wood and remedies from dried herbs. In effect, they harvest the earth for their means. This extends to creation of adornments for personal use - which has now influenced an economy.
The term "mud-cloth" by which Batik Bone Beads from Kenya are also known, derives from a Malinese art-form, whereby strips of cotton are hand-sewn to form a large canvas and thus painted with the rich, peaty mud from the river bed. Later, wax became utilized in order to develop the two-tone contrast we associate with Batik today. It is perhaps key to note, that the mud sourced from certain rivers in Africa, is unlike the boot-polish brown we're inclined to imagine. Kenya has a distinctly varied topography, and as such, the soils range from bright red clay, to blackest peat - perhaps from ancient volcanic activity. It is the black peat dye that was first used for traditional mud-cloth.
Today, the term "mud-cloth" in relation to beads, is rather a diverse one, however usually refers to bone beads which are hand-painted/ dyed and bear the starkest contrast in color. (e.g bright white, against blackest-brown). Take a look at our multifarious shapes and styles of Batik Bone Beads here at The Bead Chest. Although some may be worn with the pitting and dirt of the ages, you can still make out clearly the distinct contrast between color. The darker the brown/ black of the dye, the truer to the mud-cloth format of Batik!