Kenya is renowned for its top-notch and authentic African jewellery. This beautiful jewellery represents the vibrant culture as well as the ethnic diversity in the country. From necklaces, anklets, waist beads, earrings, and bracelets this jewellery varies in many forms suitable for men, women, and children.
Are you looking to add the African style to your jewellery collection? Or maybe you are yet to own any African jewellery piece, how about you change that today? This jewellery will absolutely elevate your look and make an outstanding fashion statement.
Today we explore everything you should know about Kenyan Jewellery so that you can understand the heritage of these pieces and have a world of options to choose from. But first, here is a brief history of this beautiful jewellery.
History of African Jewellery
Traditionally, jewellery was used to tell a leader from the common man or a wife from a spinster. In fact, archaeologists discovered jewellery in ancient African graves belonging to kings and chiefs. This jewellery was believed to convey different messages. To some hope, well-being, and wisdom while it portrayed supernatural protection, marriage, and status to others.
Different countries across Africa identified jewellery with deeper meaning, more than just mere adornment. In Algeria for example, the ouled nail women wore nail-spiked bracelets while dancing to ward off overly enthusiastic dancers. What a fascinating way to protect yourself, right?
Unlike the past, today most people love this jewellery to spice up their outfit and enhance beauty. Fashion enthusiasts and icons are slowly embracing this African jewellery. This is because it easily incorporates other elements making it stand out and way more personal than other jewellery.
In Kenya, the first jewellery has been dated back to 40,000 years ago in the Twilight Cave. It was handmade from ostrich shell beads. Ever since, different communities have different jewellery that reflect their vibrant culture and tell their story. Below are some of the Kenyan Communities alongside the kind of jewellery they adorned.
The Kamba are part of the bantu community mostly situated in the eastern region of Kenya. They were popularly known as long distance traders. They would trade locally produced items like ivory, cattle, and millet with other communities then get beads in return.
They used these beads to make ornaments like necklaces, anklets, bracelets, and headbands. These multi-coloured pieces became increasingly popular overtime making Kamba jewellery distinguishable from other communities. The jewellery would either be embedded over leather skirts or kilts to enhance their beauty and that of the wearer.
2. Maasai, Samburu, and Turkana
During the 19th century, these communities were nomadic pastoralists that hand-made their jewellery using locally available raw materials like clay, wood, and bones. Over time, barter trade brought them glass beads which they use till date.
Women would hand make the ornaments and design the colours for the men, women, and children in the community. Different individuals would wear different beadwork structures and colours. You could tell someone’s age, social standing, marital status, and even whether they bore a girl or a boy from the jewellery they wore.
Each colour would mark an important aspect of different cultures, some were associated with cattle while others held other beliefs. Below are some of the general colours used to make jewellery and what they symbolized.
- Blue – Symbolizes energy and the sky.
- Red – Symbolizes unity, blood, and bravery. The Maasai would slaughter a cow when they met to signify unity.
- Orange – Represents hospitality. Visitors would be served cow milk from orange guards.
- Green – Stands for health and land.
- White – Marks peace, purity, and health.
- Black – Reflects the colour of the people and the struggles they endure.
People with a high social status wore the most colourful jewellery and vice versa. Sometimes, the Maasai women would design the colours and beadwork as a form of sending encoded messages. This was quite an interesting way of spreading gossip, don’t you think?
During the 19th century, the Luo community would import cowry shells and glass beads through trade with West Africa then use them to make ornaments. Other ornaments were still made from locally available resources like animal and wood products.
These ornaments range from waist aprons, armlets, wrist bangles, necklaces, and cowry shell belts. Like other communities, wearing these ornaments implied someone’s social and marital status.
The Giriama were the largest group among the Mijikenda community. Amongst these people were skilled craftsmen who would make beautiful ornaments like chains, earrings, and bangles. These pieces are not only worn as charms but also to enhance beauty. The necklaces were made and worn by women from white, blue, and orange beads while the waist beads were made from white, yellow, red, and black barrel beads threaded onto sisal thread.
Fascinating Tips for Styling African Jewellery
African jewellery is trendy, fashionable, and flexible to different personalities and preferences. Hence, all you need to do is to figure out your style, own it and dress accordingly. Below are styling tips you should use to pull off African jewellery perfectly.
- It is Okay to Match African Jewellery with Other Metals
Silver jewellery pairs and complements African accessories beautifully. This is because silver has a neutral colour and reflective nature that rhymes with African jewellery. Keep your creative juices flowing and experiment different styles to find your best match.
- Keep it Simple
African jewellery tends to be colourful and bold so wear it with more laid back, one solid colour outfits to enhance your look. Avoid pairing African jewellery with busy patterns outfits. Stick neutral colours when wearing African accessories.
- Match Your Necklace With Your Neckline
Match your neckline with your necklace. Wear short necklaces with short necklines and vice versa. For off-shoulder, crewnecks, and strapless tops, experiment with statement pieces and layered chains as you find what suits you the most. A perfect necklace on the right neckline will do wonders to any look.
- One Bold Piece at a Time
If you are looking to make a great fashion statement, wear one statement piece at a time. This allows you to create a focal point that will bring out your look distinctly and elegantly. Avoid wearing multiple bold pieces at a go because they tend to completely overshadow you by tearing attention away from your look.
Whether you are looking for a piece that speaks to your personality, a statement piece to attend some grand occasion or a custom-made accessory, African jewellery is a great place to start looking. This jewellery is clearly priceless, beautiful, and trendy even over time. If you are yet to add it to your accessory in your wish list, what are you waiting for? It is absolutely worth your while.