Photo by Priyanka Harania
After coming to Pepperdine from Kenya, a country rich with both culture and diversity, I find myself putting on my Kenyan jewelry to remind me of home.
I often wear my necklace with an Africa pendant to show others that although I am Indian, I am not from India, but from Kenya. It’s my favorite piece I have, especially since my sister bought it for me before I left home to come to California. It keeps me from forgetting where I come from. Others probably eat their native food dishes or look at old photos to remind themselves of home; I use jewelry to keep my connection to Kenya alive.
I started off wearing these beautiful pieces of jewelry because all my friends back at home wore their own. After a while, it just became the norm to wear Kenyan jewelry. We wore Kenyan jewelry as a sign of patriotism. Most of us back at home prefer authentic Kenyan jewelry crafted by the local people over mainstream accessories found in clothing stores. We buy them from fairs, called MaasaiMarket, held all over Nairobi. Each day, they are held at different places, mainly in malls. Many of the craftsmen and women come together and set up simple stalls, where customers haggle over the price of different items. It’s an awesome experience. These stalls offer a variety of different goods to choose from, ranging from clothes to paintings to necklaces to bags.
After wearing these accessories for so long, I realized that a lot of cultural and community support went into these pieces. Kenya is a less economically developed country, where many live in or just above poverty. There have been many programs to elevate these people out of poverty and provide them a way to become self-sufficient, and jewelry-making is one of the most successful programs that helps the locals earn some type of income. I personally wear their jewelry in order to support them. In a way, I am also promoting their designs at Pepperdine and creating awareness of the deep culture, beauty and fashion of my home.
There is more to the accessories than simple aesthetics. I learned that particular patterns and types of jewelry belong to the different tribes. Knowing this helped me to identify which pieces belong to which Kenyan tribes. Kenyans tend to use more green, red and black in their designs because the Kenyan flag contains green, red and black.
However, since the jewelry has become very popular in recent years, the different patterns and designs have started to mesh together in order to mass produce for the growing market. After walking around campus and noticing different accessories students wear, I can pick out the small similarities between the design elements of their jewelry and my Kenyan jewelry.
Some of the jewelry seen at stores like Forever 21 or H&M has been influenced by African design; though, they of course, are not authentic. However, this proves to me that the African world is starting to be noticed by the West. And that is a great accomplishment.
After visiting a few museums in LA where African jewelry is sold at ridiculously high prices, I noticed that these necklaces do not do justice to the beautiful accessories found in Kenya. They make it seem like authentic African jewelry is expensive, when in fact it is very affordable and cheaper than Forever 21 and H&M. Kenyan jewelry is made by locals just on the line of poverty; they cannot afford expensive material. Even so, African-made jewelry is much more durable than the mass-produced items.
If you want to buy beautiful Kenyan jewelry, you are in luck. There are several stores in Southern California selling pieces designed by Carolyn Roumeguere, a woman who spent her childhood in Kenya. Roumeguere gives back to the Kenyan community through an NGO called Milgis Trust that sustains the pastoral peoples’ way of life.
I make an effort to wear my Kenyan jewelry more than the fashion chain store pieces. These pieces give authenticity and culture to my style. Each piece is unique –– some may be similar, but they are never the same. Perhaps that is why we wear accessories — to add a piece of who we are to an outfit. I carry my home with me every time I wear my authentic Kenyan jewelry.
Stores where you can find Carolyn Roumeguere’s accessories:
23410 Civic Center Way
Malibu, CA 90265
2. Los Angeles
8575 Melrose Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90069
525 San Ysidro Road
Santa Barbara, CA 93108
2241 West Coast Highway
Newport Beach, CA 92663
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