The East African pastoralists are well known for their colorful and decorative beaded adornments, and their strong adherence to beads in contrast to the westernized clothing culture of other neighboring agricultural peoples. “Warriors” standing with spears and elaborative beaded adornments all over the bodies, and women with many beaded necklaces piled from shoulder to chin are always featured in brochures and postcards for tourists as well as in photo collections introducing Africa, and they create the image of “traditional Africa” represented by the “Maasai.”
The body adornments of East African pastoralists, though eye-catching, have been little studied and there has been no comprehensive description on the body adornments of specific ethnic groups. This book is a monograph that provides a complete picture of the body adornments of the Samburu in Kenya based on field research conducted by the author from 1999 to 2003. By measuring and describing every adornment worn by each of 249 Samburu people at the time of the survey, the author collected data on 6,323 adornments. Based on those data, and using photographs and illustrations, the book describes 172 types of body adornments with their local names, etymology of the name, shape and size, color, material and manufacturing method, the way of acquisition, the user’s gender and age category, the body part the adornment is worn, wearing style, and their social and ritual significance.
From the descriptions in the book, the readers will learn that necklaces or ear adornments being worn by a woman in a postcard are not only colorful and beautiful adornments but at the same time provide many kinds of information about the woman: e.g., whether she is single or married; whether she has a lover, whether she has already gone through circumcision; whether she has experienced childbirth or miscarriage, etc. Looking closer, we can discover, from a small shell or a cattle hair tied to her necklace, that she has had an experience of a breech birth or that a cow she is milking has not produced much milk recently.