Maasai People Culture Illustrated Through Interview with Bead Artisan

| Published: | Last Updated: April 22, 2022 | ,

Traditions and Customs of Maasai People Revealed by Bead Artisan Phoebe Lasoi Salau

The Maasai people are an ethnic group of northern, central and southern Kenya and northern Tanzania. Maasai men and women have worn beaded jewelry, both for special occasions and for everyday use, since the mass importation of beads from Europe as trade items in the late 19th century. In this podcast, meet Phoebe Lasoi Salau, a Maasai artisan and member of the Olmakau Women’s Beading Cooperative in Kitengela, Kenya, which specializes in fine beadwork.

Phoebe lives and works in Nairobi–her shop Lasoi Maasai Sandals is located at the city market. She also remains an active member of the Kitengela community just south of the Nairobi National Game Park, where her parents live. Phoebe was invited to participate in the highly competitive and prestigious 2019 International Folk Art Market in Santa Fe that features master artisans from some one hundred and fifty countries. Since its launch in 2003, participating artist earnings have exceeded $31 million and impacted more than one million lives in the communities they represent. Earnings from the sale of Phoebe’s items will be distributed within the community.

Approximately 7,000 Maasai people live on the Kitengela plains. Many of them still live in very traditional ways while others combine modern living standards with community traditions and rituals.

The Kitengela plains are threatened by the rapidly expanding city of Nairobi, often forcing Massai families to sell off land to stave off dire poverty. Loss of land means loss of grazing areas for both livestock and wildlife and without land, the Maasai lose the bedrock of their culture and traditions.

I know you’ll enjoy this conversation with Phoebe, which touches on a wide range of topics: the meaning of the elements of Maasai attire; the opportunities the beading tradition provides; balancing progress with maintaining traditions and community; the values of respect, hospitality and helping each other; the phenomenon of cultural appropriation; and the reality that boys are not more equal than girls.

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1 thought on “Maasai People Culture Illustrated Through Interview with Bead Artisan”

  1. Phoebe is not only a wonderful artist, but she’s also an inspiring social entrepreneur. I love bracelets from her, because I know that I’m contributing to girls’ education which deters genital mutilation and child marriage. Besides, the bead work is absolutely exquisite!


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