Bimbi lives in a small manyatta, at the second bend in the river Ewaso Ng’iro brown water at the foothills of might Mount Kenya. To find her, look for an old woman with skin like brown bark, wearing the most vibrant collection of beads in all of Kenya’s Rift Valley Province.
“Today I am beading a blue and white neckpiece for lovers who have lost each other. The beads will give them strength to wait one more day for the reunion they long for.”
-Bimbi Djallo, Turkana Craftswoman
Listen, then as you watch her work and she will give you her story.
“When I was a little girl, my mother began to teach me the art of ucu beading, which is also the art of love-magic. My hands tell the story of years of work, but my heart knows the story of every bead I have stung and the subtle power it holds.
Blue beads bring patience to lonely lovers. They say “I will wait for you.” White is for purity and faith: “My heart is pure and I believe you will return to me.” Red is for passion and means “My heart bleeds for you – nothing you ask I will not do.” Yellow beads say: “I am jealous but that is only because I still love you.” And pink, poor pink, is for poverty: “You have no cows to pay for my bride-price,” they say, “so I cannot love you.” Every week, the young men of the village take my wares into the local market to be sold to travelers from far away places.
I wonder if these visitors from distant lands know the power of what they buy. perhaps not, but I am sure they feel it. For no heart can resist the secret messages of ucu, which in your language means: “love letters written in beads.”