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Artists at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival create works of art out of unconventional materials:


At the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, you may see a huge, elaborate necklace that covers the wearer's shoulders and chest; it has a practical purpose, too. This is a present for the ladies who have just become engaged. Friends and family members put knots in the necklace's base strands to keep track of special occasions. The number of knots represents the amount of money or cattle that will be given to the couple as a wedding present.

According to Simaloi Saitoti, a Maasai woman in charge of beadwork initiatives for Maa Trust, a Kenyan NGO that works to preserve the nomadic Maasai culture in addition to the country's wildlife, the hues are both striking and symbolic. "The land, represented by the color green. Due to our occupation as pastoralists, we take great pleasure in the arrival of rain because it turns the grass green and our cows are healthy. Red represents the food we eat, white represents peace, blue represents energy, black represents humanity, and so on."

Saitoti notes that for centuries, beaded jewelry and baskets have been a part of Maasai culture, and that these items are traditionally made by women. Beadwork is an art form that has been passed down from generation to generation, as Saitoti explains. The phrase "it defines who I am as a Maasai" comes to mind.

According to Saitoti, Maa Trust allows Maasai women to earn money by selling their handmade beaded jewelry. She also says that the program teaches participants how to budget their income and provides financial support for approximately 500 women.

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