The Samburu, meaning ‘butterfly’, are Nilo-Saharan people who inhabit the marginal grasslands to the west and south of Lake Turkana. The diverse styles and personal adornment of these nomadic people all reflect the age-grade system that prevails throughout East Africa.
The dress and decoration is not ceremonial, it is worn continually, day and night, until a change of status or age calls for new adornments. There is an emphasis placed upon decorating the head, neck and shoulders.
Males decorate themselves more sparsely than the females. This can be seen in the above image, where the three females are dressed in finely detailed body jewelery which cover most of their upper body. In comparison, the images below of the males show that only a portion of the neck is adorned with fine beading.
In the heat of the day, each gender carries on separately with their beautification activities, sometimes for hours on end. The primary motivation is to display taste and style and thus attract the opposite sex.
Analysis of the Samburu Aesthetic
Elements of Design
Colour: Use of a distinctive set of colours; yellow, red and white are prominent colours, with accents of greens, blues and black.
Shape: Repetitive use of beaded rings which are placed around the neck on females. Geometric patterns are used; this can be seen on arm bands, around the neck and on the head.
Size: There is a mixture of fine, intricate work which can be seen through the use of fine beads to make the neckpieces and the geometric patterns. However the neck adornments on the females are large, often enveloping the whole upper torso, as seen in the first image on this page.
Texture: The texture of the Samburu dress is varied, there is a softness with the use of feathers and a sharpness with metallic facial adornments. The fine beading has a smooth appearance.
Line: There is a fluidity to the draping of chains running across the faces of the females, these match the contours of the face and come to meet in the centre of the face; the nose. A small band cradles the chin on both male and female Samburu.
What materials have been use?
There is a combination of found, natural materials, such as animal bones, feathers and flowers, as well as man-made items such as the numerous beads and handmade metal detailing found on the facial adornments.
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