Kenya has over 40 tribes and each community has a unique way of life. Crafts in Kenya are part of an industry that drives the country’s economy, known as the "Jua Kali" sector. The “Jua Kali” is an East African term that means intense or hot sun, which reflects the rigorous work artists have to do under the scorching sun to create marvelous pieces.
This industry is mostly an economic success story as it is a source of livelihood for thousands of Kenyans. Africa's traditional cultures, if preserved and leveraged strategically, could be a source of valuable material and inspiration to power economically vibrant and creative cultural industries. Kenya’s crafts industry embodies impressive resourcefulness that has been bred by scarcity and a repository of identity and Kenya’s sense of aesthetics.
Pottery is one of the oldest crafts in Africa; most communities in Kenya had distinctively styled household items, most of which are preserved in national museums around the country. Pottery-making is an important craft in many Kenyan communities. Near Lake Victoria in western Kenya, large clay pots are shaped and fired for use as cisterns to collect and store rainwater needed during dry periods.
The Maasai people of Kenya are well known for their traditional handmade beaded jewelry – it has been an important part of the Maasai culture for many years. Most women groups in these areas etch a living from beadwork. Almost daily Maasai women set aside time to work on beaded jewelry like colorful necklaces, bracelets, and pendants. It is considered the duty of every Maasai woman to learn the jewelry-making craft. Traditionally the beadwork is made by women but is worn by both sexes, and has important cultural significance. The beadwork individual wear reflects their age and social status.
Henna Body Art
Used for several millionaires for its dying properties, the henna became famous for the temporary brownish tattoos it allows to make harmlessly on the skin. Henna body art is the norm at the coast of Kenya and among Cushitic communities in Northern Kenya. It is also gaining popularity among Christians all around Kenya. Henna body art is quite popular with brides in Hindu and Muslim marriage ceremonies. Black Henna is alternately used to talk about Indigo blue, a natural dye used in the same manner than the henna, and about a harmful chemical that can leave lifetime scars and have heavy after-effects.
Traditional baskets are popular in most communities in Kenya. The unique baskets are produced according to traditional art, most often by local women who have passed down the skill from generation to generation. They use fibers of the sisal plant, an abundant local cactus, to meticulously spin then weave each strand. The baskets can have both practical and decorative applications.
Wood carving remains an integral form of artistic expression and livelihood in Kenya. Woodworkers still make items for daily household use, including bowls, cooking utensils, and furniture. Many woodworkers belong to cooperatives, such as the Wamunyu Wood Carvers Cooperative near Machakos, which promotes free trade between craftsmen and consumers. This allows them to receive a sustainable income and focus on their art.