If you studied anthropology at school then you remember Louis Leakey, studying those skulls in the middle of nowhere--the Olduvai Gorge--seventy years ago...so exotic. Well, he is gone and his children are still there and have carried on the family fascination with all things African. The youngest has been a Kenyan politician for many years and has now started the Leakey Collection with his wife. It is jewellery made with and by the Maasai tribeswomen.
The Maasai are the local tribe in the Great Rift Valley in Kenya and their livelihood was destroyed with the droughts in 2001. The Leakey's saw a chance to work with them to develop a new trade without destroying their culture. The Maasai have a tradition of beadwork; they wear wonderful huge colourful necklaces and bracelets that are all hand-crafted. The Leakey's introduced Czech beads, mixed with local grass beads and gave it all a contemporary flair.
Called Zulugrass, now over 1400 hundred Maasai women are making the jewellery while continuing their traditional life style, and making some money to better their lives at the same time. Zulugrass is a natural sustainable product. It is harvested and cut by hand. The grass grows with a hole in it and is hard and durable and lasts for six years. The beads are interspersed and the strands can be worn as bracelets, necklaces, chokers, belts or hair ties.
Sarah Palin, remember her, wears hers as a bracelet.
The last word belongs to Mrs. Leakey, commenting on working within the constraints of two cultures: "It has not been easy to build a business that is beholden to the western values of delivering orders on time, within strict specifications, in a world belonging to the nomadic herdsman where time is told by the seasons and priorities are set by the immediate need." The Leakey Collection
More on African Jewellery
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Kenyan Recycled Glass Jewellery
The New World Design