With legs stretched out loose beads in the depression of their dresses, the Maasai women were stringing beads with monofilament—no bead needles! Some of the women had small saucers for their beads, and one clever woman used an upturned Frisbee. The idea prompted me to bring as many Frisbees as I could each time I returned to Twala. A bonus: their kids could play with them as well.
Most of the women at Twala do not speak English so teaching us how to bead consists of demonstration, then they hand the beads to you and you have to figure out the instructions. All the while, they are tapping you on your arm, demonstrating the pattern again, and then handing it to you, so you can replicate it. There is a lot of nudging, gesticulating and laughter. Its like a pantomime and lots of instruction gets lost in translation.
Every group I take to Kenya is exposed to this system of beading. Its hilarious to see how some interact with the whole process.
In January 2019, my friend Janis was beading with one woman, and all seemed to be going well until there was an issue with quality control. It seems my friend was just happily stringing beads with no pattern in mind.
Her teacher definitely had a pattern in mind. I watched as the Maasai woman snatched Janis’ work from her hands and handed it back to her to start over. And this process is pretty much what happened to me. In the end, all was well, as how often does one have a chance to bead with the Maasai under a tree in Kenya?
I always bring back lots of Maasai beadwork to sell at Screen Door Studios. The studio is filled with beaded mirrors, belts, animals, watchbands and warrior beads and other items from Kenya. I am located at 310 S. Sherwood, Old Town Fort Collins, 1 block north of the Lincoln Center. Open Saturdays 10am-4pm.