Home >mint-lounge >Moulding African tradition

We were almost at the fag end of our holiday in Kenya. The last day of the tour was set aside for sightseeing in and around Nairobi, last-minute shopping, and, most importantly, picking up souvenirs for friends and family back home. After a trip to the Giraffe Center, a nature education centre set up to save the endangered Rothschild giraffe, our next stop was the Kazuri beads factory on the outskirts of the Kenyan capital. Kazuri means “small and beautiful" in Swahili.

Around five million beads a year are hand-made by 400-odd women at the factory. Sandipan Das

The workshop was founded by an Africa-born Englishwoman, Susan Wood. Wood started a coffee plantation at the Karen Blixen Estate with her husband. She set up the workshop as a help centre for women, especially single mothers with no other source of income and women who had lost their husbands to HIV/AIDS.

We reached the Kazuri factory in the afternoon. Our group of four was met by a Kenyan guide, who took us around the property, carefully explaining the various processes of bead-making, and telling us about the history of the workshop. The clay is brought from Mount Kenya, around 200km from the capital. The clay is then moulded into beads and ceramic utensils, painted with African motifs, and baked several times over in huge kilns.

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The factory is divided into various sections. The central hall has long tables with women seated on both sides, dressed in colourful and traditional garb—a match to their colourful creations. The women sit across from each other, chatting in Swahili and giggling as their nimble hands give life to lumps of clay. I particularly remember a woman named Elizabeth, who was wearing a colourful, floral wrap, a loose black shirt and a traditional blue headdress. She tried to strike up a conversation with a woman in our group. Although none of us understood what she was saying, she continued with her happy monologue.

As we walked through the workshop-cum-factory, we saw the different areas where colouring, glazing and baking takes place. A big area is set aside for the storage of beads in flat boxes according to size, shape and colour.

These beads are then strung to make gorgeous necklaces, bracelets and earrings. Needless to say, the women in our group were in jewellery heaven.

sandipan.d@livemint.com

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