Throughout the world, ethnic groups are characterized and
identified by dress and ornamentation. The Maasai are,
perhaps, one of the most widely recognized people in terms
of fashion and decoration, sporting bright colors, intricate
patterns, and jewelry that dangles, jingles, and catches the
The Maasai conjure up popular images of young brides
weighted with beaded ornamentation, numerous, collar
necklaces that rhythmically move when they dance,
headdresses that drape and accent the facial features, and
brightly colored bangles wrapped tightly around forearms.
Because the Maasai are traditionally a pastoral
people, much of the color symbolism relates to cattle.
Red, for example, signifies danger, ferocity, bravery, strength,
and especially unity, because it is the color of the blood of the
cow that is slaughtered when the community comes together
in celebration. Blue is important because it represents the sky
which provides water for the cows. Green is important because it represents the land which grows food for the cattle
to eat. Green also represents the health of the Maasai
community because there is a local plant called olari which
grows tall and plentiful, as the Maasai hope they will too.
The gourds that hold the milk that are offered to visitors are
colored orange, and so this is the color of hospitality.
Yellow also suggests hospitality because it is the color of the
animal skins on guest beds. Because white is the color of
milk, which comes from a cow, considered by the Maasai as a
pure and holy animal, white represents purity. White also
represents health, because it is milk that nourishes the
community. Black represents the color of the people but
more importantly the hardships we all go through in life. It
suggests that difficult times occur with everyone because
those difficulties are part of the same, natural sequence of life.