Shuka, in the language of Maa spoken by the Maasai people, means sheets. Shuka sheets or Shuka blankets, are wrapped around the body. Shukas are normally red with colours such as blue introduced. Occasionally plain colours are worn but more often patterns are plaid and sometimes shukas are striped. Surprisingly Maasai warriors, tough as they are, tolerate pink skuka blankets with flowers on!
Near the coast Maasai sometimes wear kikoy wraps (kikoi) which is a sarong, available in a multitude of vibrant colours. Striped kikoys are preferred by the Maasai.
Maasai clothing changes according to location and the age of the tribes-people. Black is worn by young men after their circumcision. Red is the favoured colour but black, blue, check and striped cloth are also popular.
Prior to 1960 the Maasai wore animal skin such as calf hides and sheep skin. After the ’60’s the skins started to be replaced with commercial cotton.
Men and women Maasai wear wooden bracelets and Maasai women weave beautiful bead jewellery such as Maasai bead necklaces and Maasai bead earrings. Beadwork plays an important role in adorning the body. Different colours of beads have different meanings, for example, blue is for water, white is for peace and red stands for blood, bravery and warrior.
The Maasai express their identity and position within society with body ornaments and painting the body. Traditionally woman do the bead-work and they have a long history of creating beautiful bead-work.
Before encountering Europeans, beads were made from raw materials found locally. Clay produced white beads though bone, shells and ivory were also used for making white beads. Blue and black beads were fashioned from charcoal, clay, iron, seeds or animal horn. Seeds, copper, brass, bone or ivory were perfect for red beads. In the nineteenth century brightly coloured glass beads from Europe found favour with the Maasai for bead jewellery and the glass beads soon replaced the traditional beads.
Footwear nowadays consists of sandals with tire strip soles as opposed to the cowhide sandals which were previously popular.