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Kenyan Beads: The Gift of Lovers

Kenyan beads have a story of their own. The Maasai have long been known for their extravagant beaded collars and exuberant head-wear, yet rather less is mentioned of the Samburu; an equally fascinating and creative sub-group of the Kenyan nomadic people. Much like the Maasai, the Samburu are exceptionally proud of their heritage and culture, and as such, still practice many of the traditional rites and customs of their ancestors. Ornamental bone and glass beads play a significant role in these rites, particularly once men and women 'come of age'.

Coming of age is one of the most important events in the life of a Samburu male, as he transitions from boyhood to the role of moran (warrior). These warriors are among the most decorated members in Samburu society, daubing themselves with bright orange paint and dying their hair with bright red ochre. Moran are granted significant freedoms once they come of age, including the freedom to indulge in relations with young women of their choosing. These warriors are treated like celebrities by women, many of whom compete for their affections by lavishing them with strings of Kenyan Bone Beads, in the hope they will later be chosen as a mate.

Being a polygamous people, marriage is largely prohibited among the Samburu. Of course, that doesn't mean they don't indulge in a little courtship. Often, the moran will hold extravagant dances for the young women of the tribe, just to find a long-term partner. Once a moran has chosen his partner, he will usually spoil her with strings of Glass Beads to maintain her interest. But, because women are taught from an early age that love is irrelevant, it's not uncommon for them to be 'bought' by competing moran, who can promise more beautiful beads in far greater quantities.