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Seattle Art Museum (SAM)

Leather choker (Engotoo oo ntepei)

Leather choker (Engotoo oo ntepei)

A Bride's Ideal Perfection

A wedding is the moment for defining feminine beauty in many cultures. Among Maasai women, a bride is given all the ornaments she needs to begin her new life. The art in this case was created by Maasai women from the Merrueshi community of the Kaputiei section of Kenya. Their intent was to demonstrate how a bride's costume is a personalized collection of beadwork, stories and wishes for the future. Each is composed of cowhide, glass beads, wire and plastic dividers.

One aspect of Maasai aesthetics is immediately evident. Colors-and their order of placement-are carefully controlled, both due to their meaning and to the need for balance in the interaction of opposites. Certain colors are designated as strong or weak and must not be placed side by side. Blocks of color are often finished off with a black and white rim of beads, a frame that is associated with a need for a break or cut. Nothing is meant to be continuous or unbroken, because mixture is a fact of life and needs to be recognized in the patterns. Underlying symbolism in colors are: blue as a reference to the sky and the one god, Enkai; green for the grass that feeds their beloved herds of cattle; and white as the color of milk from livestock.

To learn more about the unique exchange that inspired this collection, and check in with the women whose names appear next to their creations, please consult

Cowhide, flat glass beads, and sisal string
21 x 14in. (53.3 x 35.6cm)
General Acquisition Fund
Not currently on view


Exhibition HistorySeattle, Washington, Seattle Art Museum, "Lessons from the Institute of Empathy," (03/31/2018-ongoing), DT 450P

Seattle, Washington, Seattle Art Museum, Art from Africa: Long Steps Never Broke a Back, February 7, 2002-April 30, 2006

Seattle, Washington, Seattle Art Museum, "A Maasai Community Adorns a Bride",
May 31, 2001 - March 1, 2005, (5/31/2001-3/1/2005)

Seattle Art Museum acknowledges that we are on the traditional homelands of the Duwamish and the customary territories of the Suquamish and Muckleshoot Peoples. As a cultural and educational institution, we honor our ongoing connection to these communities past, present, and future. We also acknowledge the urban Native peoples from many Nations who call Seattle their home.

Learn more about Equity at SAM