Barbra Streisand wore this vibrant orange tribal outfit for an on location photo shoot by Steve Shapiro, during filming of Up The Sandbox (1972). Initially, director Irvin Kershner had planned to shoot the film’s African scenes on a backlot at MGM. Barbra suggested shooting on location for more authenticity, and the producers greenlit their trip to Kenya.
In his 2014 book Barbra, Shapiro noted that “Barbra really got along well with the Maasai. She tended to wear a lot of clothes that she got from the women in the tribe. She felt a real sense of camaraderie with them.” Barbra reminisced about these on location photo shoots stating “I had the greatest outfits….jewelry made out of telephone wire, little beads.” Shapiro also added, “We’d set up a portrait sitting on the fly.” During this session, Barbra wore a vibrant orange turban which is closed with a safety pin, and two large pieces of orange fabric, draped and pinned to form a dress (known as a “Shúkà” in the maa language) and shoulder wrap. Light fringing is visible at the neckline where the fabric was torn. Safety pins acted as closure and were placed where desired. Barbra accessorized with multiple pieces of native made jewelry including a delicate necklace, a belt, 7 hoop beaded earrings and various rings.
The Maasai people are Nilotic, and inhabit northern, central and southern Kenya as well as northern Tanzania. The Maasai tribe shares very similar traditions and lifestyles to the Samburu and Rendille tribes. The Samburu are considered a sub-tribe of the Maasai, and it was the members of the Samburu tribe were hired to be extras in Up the Sandbox. Samburu women took Barbra under their wing and showed her how to dress in their traditional fashions, which she fell in love with. The Samburu are a pastoral community of around 310,000 people who live on land spanning 13,000 square miles, and are often described as “butterfly people.” Women of the Samburu tribe typically wear two pieces of cloth, one wrapped around their waist and the other around their breast. Men generally wear a cloth of red with a white band around their waist.
The distinctive accessory of both Samburu and Maasai women are their stunning mutli-layered beaded collars. In these tribes, the more necklaces women wear, the more beautiful they are considered. Necklaces not only reflect on and identify a woman’s wealth and civil status, they also accentuate dance moves when dancing to traditional tribal songs. The jewelry is never taken off, and sometimes earrings are even attached to necklaces by beaded chains because losing an earring is a very bad omen. The first necklace which unmarried Samuru girls wear is red. This is given to them by their father when he has promised her to marry a man of his choosing. This does not limit the teen from dating or having sex, and they often receive multiple necklaces as a show of affection from young warriors. These are expected to be returned upon marriage. If a young or unmarried become pregnant, she is subject to a forced abortion performed by female members of the tribe. Unfortunately child marriage and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) are still very common in these tribes. In Samburu it is ‘Muratare’ which is the initiation of a rite of passage so that you can be accepted and respected as a member of the community. 95% of girls are forced to undergo this torture.
Married women in the tribe wear many colorful necklaces as well as beaded and earrings. Due to the prevalence of jewelry, which often cost around $100 USD for a single necklace, Samburu and Maasai women spend a significant amount of time creating it. Their designs consist of dyed beads, but in the past have included the use of closed seeds, pieces of old tires, brass and iron wire. Each color has significant meaning, including green for pastures, yellow for harmony, orange for hospitality, blue for water, white for purity and red for unity, courage and danger. Pieces are also made to be sold to tourists who visit nearby villages.
While men most men are responsible for grazing livestock, Samburu women remain in their homestead, called a “manyatta” where they raise children and procure water. Some women walk up to 12 miles a day carrying massively heavy jerry cans on their heads. The Samburu Project notes that “Women spend their entire day, every day of their lives, searching for water. Girls do not attend school because they are expected to assist their mothers in the quest for water. Entire communities suffer from disease because the water they can find comes from gaping, hand-dug, wells that are contaminated. Every aspect of the Samburu life, from health, to education, women’s empowerment, and agriculture, was impacted by this problem.” This search for water inspired The Samburu Project, which has led to over 75 wells being drilled. Women in the tribe can now spend the time they would have searching for water focusing on their education and skills, family life and personal development.
Due to the many abuses of women in these tribes, some have been brave enough to leave and seek out a better life. In 1990, Rebecca Lolosoli founded the all female Umoja village, and remains the village matriarch. The Guardian states that “She was in hospital recovering from a beating by a group of men when she came up with the idea of a women-only community. The beating was an attempt to teach her a lesson for daring to speak to women in her village about their rights.” Umoja began as a place for the victims of sexual assault and rape by British soldiers to have a safe haven. It has now grown into lively village of over fifty women, which helps girls and women escape from child marriage, genital mutulation, domestic violence, rape and sexual assault. The women of Umoja make a living by running a campsite for safari tourists and sell their handcrafted jewelry.
Shop for some of the tribal styles Barbra wore in Kenya at the following places:
Support the women of Umoja by visiting https://umojajewellery.com/shop/.
To shop for handcrafted items by the women of Samburu, and support The Samburu Project visit https://thesamburuproject.org/shop.
Take home beautiful jewelry handmade by Maasai women by visiting https://www.themaasaimarket.com