We work with different tribes in different parts of Kenya. Every tribe has evolved in it’s own unique way over the last one thousand years. For example, the Kamba are masters at carving gorgeous sculptures from wood, the Kikuyu weave baskets from sisal fiber and papyrus reeds, the Kisii carve from soapstone. The coastal tribes weave cotton material and incorporate shells and pearls from the Indian ocean.
Our main tribe is the Maasai tribe. They are nomadic pastoralists in South eastern Kenya. They have mastered the art of beading. They craft every piece intricately by hand. Using beads and leather tanned from their cattle, they make jewelry, sandals, bags, belts, dog accessories and many more. If it can be made with leather and beads, they make it.
The Maasai live in a patriarchal culture. The women are responsible for building the houses, fetching water from the river, collecting firewood, milking the cattle, preparing food for the family and much more.
The man’s role is to observe and give advice.
The men usually take more than one wife. They believe wealth is determined by the size of the herd and the number of children. Women tend to carry the responsibility of feeding and clothing the children. They usually have little or no access to contraception therefore, no control on the size of the families.
Livestock is the primary source of income and food for the families. The men own the livestock. The health and size of the herd is greatly dependent on the weather patterns and available pasture to graze. In years when the rains fail, the consequences for the cattle, women and children is dire.
Women learn the craft of beading at a young age. The beads a woman wears articulate her place in society. Every color has a meaning. Every pattern sends a unique message.
Beading is also used as a way of building bonds among the women. After they are done with chores, they come together to talk, relax, fellowship, catch up with each other while beading.
The men sell some of the cattle to buy beads. Women with wealthier husbands have more ornaments and beaded jewelry. Women from poor households cannot afford beads and are not invited to beading circles. The cycle repeats itself through generations.
The men arrange marriages between their daughters and older, wealthier men in exchange for an agreed number of cows as dowry. In some villages young women undergo excision or female circumcision (female to genital mutilation) as a rite of passage. They are considered women ready for an arranged marriage and so, their adult life begins.
Statistics aside. My experience with the Maasai is warm and memorable. They are a colorful, musical, happy, grateful people. They take care of each other and go out of their way to be hospitable and kind. You can’t help but gaze in awe as they dance, moving the ornamental beadwork on their chest to make music. The young morans (warriors) jump higher than gravity should allow dressed in red checkered shukas, holding their spears and shields.
They have so much in common with native Americans. The beading designs, patterns, colors, dances and general way of life seems to share the same spirit.
Sawa Sawa Collection works with the women to help them harness the skills in beading. Through our 501c3 programs, we make sure every woman has beads and tools to create. We help them with designs that are simpler and fashionable. We buy all the products at a fair market price to give them a sustainable income. We use the profits made from the sales to improve their quality of life.
We work with other tribes as well. We hope as we grow and create a bigger market in the USA for the modern artifacts, we can include more communities and make a bigger impact.
The median age in Kenya is 19.1 years. More than 75% of the population is under 30. The economy does not support job creation for the youth. 74% live in rural areas with no access to innovation. Most young adults are have a high school education and a high percentage have a college degree. They are capable of working towards a strife free future given the opportunity.
Sawa Sawa Collection hopes to be part of the solution through our work and our programs. Our goal is cultural preservation and appreciation, poverty eradication, female entrepreneurship and empowerment.
Our programs include access to contraception, food and nutrition, education and training in ancient craft, and resources for the women.
Through empathetic, active listening, we hope to learn more about their pockets of need and be of service to the wonderful, hardworking women that make our ethical, fair, sustainable, global-changing fashion line possible.