The Maasai of Kenya and Tanzania are synonymous with their intricate and colorful beaded jewelry. This heritage art is central to the tribe's cultural practices, from indicating age and social status to marking important events like engagements, weddings, or children's birth. A pastoral community, rearing livestock was traditionally the Maasai’s only source of income. In recent years, national park boundaries, the privatization of cattle grazing land, and growing towns and cities have been detrimental to this way of life. Many Maasai women have turned to beadwork to support themselves and their families.
Maasai Maker Mum of four, Veronica Selena, describes in a nut-shell the truly life-changing and transformative effects of this age-old skill passed down from generation to generation: "With beadwork, you can build your life — educate children, build a house, buy land." Veronica, herself, is a testament to this. Having learned beadwork from her mother and having passed this skill on to her daughter, Veronica has relied on the craft to take her four children to school, expand her family home, buy goats and two cows, and most recently become a real estate agent. Veronica's life story is just one of the hundreds we've heard of and seen first-hand as we’ve worked with Maasai Maker Mums for the last decade.
Over the years, we have learned that while beadwork is rooted in tradition, it is an art form that adapts and changes to meet the times. Initially, Maasai women used dried grass, sticks, clay, or seeds, as beads and as they traded with other communities, they introduced plastic or glass beads into their designs. Today, almost all Maasai jewelry uses glass beads imported from the Czech Republic, where artisans use centuries-old glassmaking techniques to make beads in every imaginable color. When we launched our beaded bracelets, we started with wide beaded cuffs — we have grown with the Maasai Maker Mums to create everything from our signature LOVE bracelet to beaded crossover bags, stackable bracelets for every season, empowered woven word bracelets, and even beaded dog collars for our favorite furry friends.
Ubuntu Life Founders Jeremiah Kuria and Zane Wilemon did not set out to establish a global lifestyle brand — having lived for extended periods with the Maasai, they had seen first-hand the hardships of the inconsistent and sporadic nature of income generated with the craft. “Sales means food and school fees. No sales means no food and no school fees, ” Zane says, explaining Ubuntu Life’s driving commitment to provide consistent and sustained beadworking income for Maasai Maker Mums.