MPORO marriage necklace, SAMBURU/Rendille, Kenya, ca 1950
This necklace was made by the Samburu or Rendille people who live in north central Kenya, just above the equator. The Samburu and Rendille are semi-nomadic pastoralists who often move to graze their livestock. They are closely related to the Maasai, who live further south and speak a similar language. Before marriage, a Rendille man must prove his manhood and is expected to steal cattle from the Samburu. Therefore, there is always a conflict between the two population groups, which must then be settled by the Council of Elders.
This type of necklace gets its name from the large red beads, called mporo, that form a vertical row in the center. These beads are sometimes called white heart beads. They are dark red oval glass beads with white centers, looking like carnelian. They were specially made in Venice for trade with Africa from the 1880s to the early 20th century. Since shepherds in the area used carnelian beads for centuries before the arrival of Europeans, they were an ideal market for these trade beads. Nowadays these beads are highly prized. The necklace is made from bundles of palm fibers or/and giraffe hair, under braided giraffe hair threaded through the mporo beads. There is an extra row of beads hidden behind the beads that are not visible from the front. The bundles of fibers and hairs are wrapped in leather and covered with red ocher and animal fat.
Body decoration, especially beaded jewelry, is highly valued in Samburu society. Mporo necklaces have the specific function of indicating a woman's married status. As such, they are an important part of a bride's adornment. When a woman is married, her mother gives her a necklace made from the beads in two of the fiber bundles of her own mporo necklace. After the first month of marriage, a ceremony is performed and other related women bring gifts like additional beads to the bride, resulting in a necklace of at least three bundles, like this one. The beads represent wealth and fertility and show a connection to generations of women who have successfully given birth to children.
This is a beautiful example of an authentic and worn Mporo necklace that is in excellent worn condition. I had a custom made stand made for it that is included.
Diameter to outside measured: 27 cm in width and 29 cm in length
Weight: 413 grams, including standard 754 grams
Date: ca 1950
Origin: Kenya, direction Sudan. Samburu tribe
Provenance: Obtained from a Flemish private collection