Thursday, 11 October 2012

Module 6 chapter 1

Reasearch of decorative textiles from other cultures

I have chosen option 1 for this chapter, which is to make a study of a specific area of the world to discover the materials used to create decorative textile objects.

My chosen area is Tansania as I was lucky enough to go on a safari there in 2009. Although this was a controled visit we were able to meet the Massai people in their enkang/settlement. We also saw many Maasai tribespeople walking in the Serengetti and other areas.


Masaai is a generic term for many different tribal groups but the most fearsome of them all are the Moran, they are the stormtroopers, comandos of the tribal world. Their cattle were their life and a Moran's duty was to protect his father's heard and capture other peoples' as their God Enkai had given all the cattle in the world to the Massai.

They are, however having to adapt to the changes imposed upon them, and this can be seen, to a lesser degree in their ornamentation. Their beaded jewelery and patterns often relate to difffernt tribes, which are as varied and complicated as the Scottish clans. Sometimes this decoration in textiles and every day objects is the only way that tribespeople now recognise a person's tribal herritage.

The beads used today were first intoduced to the Maasai in the late 1800 's as tokens of friendship and exchange given by early explorers. Later the Missionary women taught the Maasai women how to make patterns with the beads and later how to make articles for sale for tourists.

It was a great eperience to be welcomed into the Enkang where each familly had laid out thier wears for sale, and interestingly it was the rule that once you had chosen a familly that was the only place you could buy your souvenires. Also the women kept all the money even from sales that the men made and this then went to the schooling of their children


I bought a beautiful beaded bowl and three little pots that sat inside each other. The structure of the bowl is quite complex in it's construction. The above image is a digital painting of it, below is a sketch where I tried to work out how the design was worked.


As you can see I've tried a small samlple of the beaded bowl. I don't know how the Massai women consruct their pieces but I think it must be with the minimum of tools as we saw them several times, sitting together in the grass outside the lodges working on different pieces. My bowl measures about 5 inces in diameter and is about 2.5 inches deep, it holds found treasures

And here are 2 of the three beaded boxes that I bought home. The smallest measurues 2.0 inches in diameter and is 1.5 inches tall. The biggest one ot the set measures 3.5 inches in diameter and is 2.5 inches tall.


I Also purchased a beautiful book about the Maasai which has some wonderful photos of their beadwork.The book is titled The Last of the Maasai, Mohamed Amin, Duncan Willetts, John Eames, foward by Elspeth Huxley. I have used it extensively for my research in this chapter.

One of the pieces in the book shows how humurous and ecclectic the girls can be in their beadwork

This headress is called 999 as it's named after police cars with swirling light on the top, as you can see buttons and metal have also been used in the construction.

Again I sketched the design to see how it was constructed and it was much more complicated than I had expected.



As you can see once again I had a go at making my own version of the centre piece but it's not nearly as beautiful as the one this lovely girl has made for a celebration. She has also had her face painted with a red ochre soil paste taken from the the area she lives in. This is also used as a method to dye cloth.

The last of my studies was this pair of long earings that the girls have to wear before they do the milking in the morning. The wide leather strap is worn through the large hole in their ears and the undecorated part is then folded down and fixed to the front.



  1. Absolutely fascinating - but why on earth would you need to put your earrings on before you go out to milk the cows?

  2. A very interesting post Sharon.

  3. you will definitely have a lot of source material for this work....and welcome back!

  4. Thank you for this wonderful first report on the Masai. I am very curious to see where this rich material will lead you.