Kenya's tradition: Bead work still vital to tribes
WASHINGTON (AP) - Susana Daniel Chemakwany sits quietly under a white tent near the U. S. Capitol, stitching tiny, multicolored beads together into a colorful array of necklaces, wristlets and earrings laid out before her on two tables and behind... A price tag hangs from each item, but there was a time when Chemakwany had little need for price tags on her work. The traditional pastime of jewelry-making has a new economic significance for Chemakwany, an elder of Kenya’s Pokot tribe, who traveled to the National Mall last month to show her wares and share expertise at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. This year’s event ended July 6 and featured the art, dance, music, food and crafts of China and Kenya. The “Kenya: Mambo Poa” exhibit brought the traditions of the East African country together in a cultural celebration. And inside the vast, white tents, master artisans practiced basket weaving, hut-building, hair-braiding and bead-making. Among Kenya’s Pokot, Kikuyu and Maasai tribes, traditional beadwork can provide additional income to support their families. “A long time ago, we used to give them for free” Emmah Irungu, a middle-aged woman of the Kikuyu tribe, said of the items she makes. Many have fallen back on selling traditional bead work. Beads have been integral to Africans for thousands of years. According to the Smithsonian Center for Education and Museum Studies website, the earliest examples of manufactured beads were found in Libya and Sudan and date to 10,000 B. C. Bead work remains part of the cultural tradition in several African... While their ancestors made beads from clay and other local materials, now bead workers must travel hundreds of miles to shops in Nairobi, Kenya’s capital. Many bead artists stock up on materials to last them for months.