Tag: Africa

Kazuri Beads: The Power of Small and Beautiful in Kenya

Kazuri Beads, which means, “small and beautiful” in Swahili, began as a tiny workshop experimenting with handmade clay beads. Each handmade colorful bead reflects the culture and wildlife of Kenya.

For forty years, Kazuri has provided employment for many single women. Today, over 300 women handcraft these colorful, beautiful clay beads in Kazuri’s Nairobi factory. 

The enterprise improves the lives of single women.  Many of the women employed by Kazuri were nearly destitute, abandoned by their men or widowed by the AIDS epidemic that is still ravaging Kenya. Employment and empowerment of women are guiding principles of this craft enterprise.

Kenya embraces women’s empowerment and there are many women run enterprises that provide employment and training with the intent of improving the lives of all Kenya people.

I have always loved and coveted Kazuri beads long before I knew they were made in Kenya. But once I found out where they were made in Kenya, I always visit their factory and their showroom whenever I go to Kenya. 

I love learning about how craftspeople make their work. The tour starts with a discussion about the clay they use, and how it goes through a giant pug mill. From there, they take the clay into a room where the beads are formed and shaped. All beads are handmade from start to finish. To take a tour of the factory is totally overwhelming.

Faceted Russian Blue Glass Trade Beads

Also know as cobalt blue beads, they were not made in Russia, but were used by Russian traders in the 1800’s in exchange for fur pelts across the Americas from the Northwest Territories to Hudson Bay. Prized for their unique colors and shapes, Russian Blue Glass Beads even found their way to Africa.  Faceted gemstone beads inspired Bohemian artisans who had access to a plentiful supply of running water which supplied the energy for the grinding wheels needed to cut glass. 

Kenya Domino Bone Beads

Hand carved and shaped into many sizes, the beads are made from cattle, camel, or Cape buffalo bone. After the bones are bleached, they are treated with a batik-like process in which patterns are painted on the surface with wax. Patterning occurs when the bone is dyed and the waxed areas are left natural. Traditional geometric patterns include stripes, dots, swirls or other motifs.