|My Giriama copper pendant|
|Kamba girl's apron (from Lindblom 1920)|
These names are interesting because they provide clues to the history of these crafts and this particular kind of ornamentation. The Giriama term ndale is clearly related to Kamba nthale, glossed in a modern dictionary as 'brass or iron ornaments affixed to the clothes of women' (Mwau 2006:195), and in an older work as 'little brass or iron cylinders sometimes used in making old women's aprons and as ornaments on the straps of the nthũngĩ', a kind of small woven bag (A.I.M. 1939: 159, 161). According to Charles Hobley only the brass beads on a married woman's apron or kimengo were called nthale: iron beads had their own name (1910: 72). Gerhard Lindblom called these brass beads nzale (1920: 374), a local variant (or mistake) for nthale. He also illustrates a young women's neck collar called nguthi (1920: 377), a name clearly related to the Giriama ngudhi. In this case though the collar is made of iron chains, not beads or cylinders sewn onto leather. The Kamba are inland neighbours and have long been traders among the Giriama and other Mijikenda, and it may be that these items of adornment and their names were taken from them. Or they might have been introduced by the historical Segeju, a group of people closely related to the Kamba, who had a significant impact on Mijikenda society and language in the middle of the last millennium. Linguistic evidence suggests that the Segeju were adept at metal-working and transferred a number of related practices to the Mijikenda and the Giriama in particular (Walsh 2013: 35).
|'Gohu elder's amulet', Cantor Art Center, Stanford University|
(Accession No. 2012.114)
|Bomani in 1985|
More lucrative [than a group farm] while it lasted was the handicraft trade initiated by Tototo. This was based upon the production of traditional Giriama ndale necklaces for the tourist market. The women bought lengths of ndale copper wire from specialist producers and fashioned these into viwele, heavy pendants, and virangi, with brass and coloured beads added. 1½ feet of wire, bought for 1 sh, was enough to make 2 or 3 viwele, the commonest product, sold to Tototo for 10 sh each, while virangi fetched 20 sh. Women report being able to make up to 100 or 150 viwele in a week and at one point group members engaging in this trade are recorded as making between 35 sh and 500 sh each in a fortnight. Tototo shop records show that in 1978 14,969 sh was paid out to individuals and 920 sh to the group, which took the proceeds from one necklace in every batch an individual produced. This money was ploughed back into the bakery along with the money raised from group subscriptions. The women, however, produced more necklaces than the Tototo shop could sell, and after 2 years the trade came to a halt along with other forms of handicraft production which Tototo had attempted to introduce. Looking back upon this enterprise group members blame Tototo for its failure, an experience similar to Mkwiro's [another group that I studied]. The local, Malindi, market for necklaces remains small -- they are bought by Kamba middlemen and sold to tourists in the town -- and ndale production is not a significant source of income in Bomani; much the position when the group's trade with Tototo started. (1986:
|A young member of Bomani Women's Group in 1985|
According to another group member, Mary Ngonyo, they bought strings of ndale beads that had already been made by folding small lengths of copper ('red') or brass ('white') wire around pieces of thread (nyuzi) using a special instrument, and it was these strings that they bought at the price of a shilling for each length of around 1½ feet. The women then added coloured beads (virangi), bought in the local shops, to make neck pieces, and chains (viwele) to make the pendants, which were rather easier to produce. At first they just took them to Malindi for sale, but found it difficult to sell them. It was Esther Kenga who first wrote to and visited Tototo. There were around 20 women in Bomani Women's Group at this time. They were joined by women from the nearby village of Madzayani when they heard that there was a market for ndale, though after Tototo stopped taking the pendants they left to form their own group. As well as ndale, Tototo also persuaded the Bomani women to produce small woven bags, baskets, and straw hats for sale. But all this came to an end when Tototo told them to stop. By this time running the bakery had become the group's main focus. Some women continued to make both copper and brass ndale as well as other items of women's jewellery, and two or three years before I did my research Kamba buyers had begun coming directly to the village to purchase them. The group's chairwoman still kept a few pendants to show guests and in 1985 had presented some to a group of official visitors from Zimbabwe.
|Feeding the next generation, Bomani 1985|
|Kamba girl's necklace (from Lindblom 1920)|
It's quite likely that the pendant hanging on my wall was made by one of those women, and possible that it contributed in its own small way to her greater empowerment and the improved welfare of her children. It might equally have been a token of hope that turned to disappointment, as her newly-acquired wealth was seized by a greedy husband or her expectations of greater profit were dashed by Tototo. And whatever the case, it may well have helped to line the pockets of one of that organisation's less scrupulous employees. I can only guess. But I feel much more satisfied having these and other possible histories to ponder than I would have done without knowing anything about my shining pendant's past.
A.I.M. 1939. A Kikamba-English Dictionary. Compiled by: The Language Committee of the Africa Inland Mission in Ukamba (third unrevised edition, 1970). Nairobi: The Literary Centre of Kenya for The Afrolit Association.
Deed, Florence 1964. Giryama-English Dictionary. Nairobi: East African Literature Bureau.
Hobley, C. W. 1910. Ethnology of A-Kamba and Other East African Bantu Tribes. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Lindblom, Gerhard 1920. The Akamba in British East Africa: An Ethnological Monograph. Uppsala: Appelbergs Boktryckeri Aktiebolag.
McCormack, Jeanne, Martin Walsh and Candace Nelson 1986. Women's Group Enterprises: A Study of the Structure of Opportunity on the Kenya Coast. Boston: World Education, Inc.
Mumba, Maurice Kambishera 1987. The Wrath of Koma. Nairobi: Heinemann Kenya.
Taylor, W. E. 1891. Giryama Vocabulary and Collections. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.
Walsh, Martin 1986. Interim Report for a Study of Income Generation and its Effects among Women’s Groups in Kenya’s Coast Province. Report to World Education Inc., Boston.
Walsh, Martin 1987. Buying power? Some outcomes of income for women. Reports (World Education Inc., Boston) 27: 14-16.
Walsh, Martin 1989. Tototo Home Industries: assistance strategies for the future. In C. K. Mann, M. S. Grindle and P. Shipton (eds.) Seeking Solutions: Framework and Cases for Small Enterprise Development Programs. West Hartford: Kumarian Press, Inc. 365-385.
Walsh, Martin 2013. The Segeju Complex? Linguistic evidence for the precolonial making of the Mijikenda. In Rebecca Gearhart and Linda Giles (eds.) Contesting Identities: The Mijikenda and Their Neighbors in Kenyan Coastal Society. Trenton, New Jersey: Africa World Press. 25-51.