African designs, £9.99
Length: 18.000 cm
Width: 12.000 cm
Length: 18.000 cm (1928.7-12.5)
Width: 12.000 cm
AOA 1928.7-12.5;AOA 1949.Af46.651
Wood and ivory armlets
Maasai, probably 20th century
Elegant wood and ivory armlets were worn by Maasai men on the upper arm. The tight-fitting form accentuated the masculine physique and was thought to be aesthetically pleasing. Meticulous local repairs to the ivory armlet indicates its value.
The Maasai peoples of southern Kenya and northern Tanzania are pastoralists who believe that their wealth lies in the ownership of cattle, a gift from God. They have a deep disregard for agriculture as they consider the earth 'dirty'. They move their herds several times a year in search of water and fertile lands. Though generally nomadic, they have claimed ownership of good grazing lands and live in semi-permanent villages. Such communities have few material possessions as they are required to pack everything quickly when necessary. Their dwellings are simple structures of branches and hides that can be transported on the back of a donkey.
Pastoralists place great emphasis on body adornments in the form of body paints, elaborate beadwork and coiffures, which indicate ethnic identity, sex, age and social position. Traditionally, ornaments were made from natural substances: bones, teeth, shells, skins, stones, roots and clay. Today glass and plastic beads imported from Europe and Japan are also used. Aluminium, produced by melting down cooking pots, is also an important material used in body decoration.
J. Mack (ed.), Ethnic jewellery-1 (London, The British Museum Press, 1988)