"I'm going to speak my mind because I have nothing to lose."--S.I. Hayakawa

Saturday, January 27, 2018

The Kenya Journals, Ch. 32 : Kazuri--Small and Beautiful

There are a few things I’m sure about in this crazy life, such as the ebb and flow of the tides, and, as the fellow said, death and taxes.  There’s one more thing I’m sure about.

Had you gone looking for me on a certain afternoon in Nairobi, Kenya, you never would have thought to look for me in a jewelry store.   Just not my scene.

But there I was at Kazuri Beads on my last day In Kenya after a tremendous photographic safari on the Maasai Mara.   I was with three others and they were going to Kazuri Beads, so I went along. 


In 1918, in a mud hut in a West African village, a baby girl was born to the English missionaries serving there.   When the child, named Susan, reached the appropriate age, she was sent back to England to be educated.   She married a surgeon, Michael Wood, and in 1947, the couple returned to Africa, to Kenya.

Susan worked with her husband to found the East African Flying Doctor Service, which later became the African Medical Research Foundation.

Seeing the incredible unemployment in Kenya, sometimes reaching 90 per cent, Susan Wood acted to help single mothers by hiring a few ladies to make beads in her garden hut near the Karen Blixen (“Out of Africa”) estate.

The business grew and expanded when word of the exquisite beads spread.  Today, more than 350 Kenyan women are employed by Kazuri Beads and their artwork is sold around the world, including on the Internet.

Some of the machinery that prepares the clay, with the raw product in the foreground.

This machine extrudes the wet, mixed clay into long tubes, as seen below.

Extruded clay.

In addition to a paying job, there is medical assistance and day care on site.

From the Kazuri Bead web site:  Each [bead] has to be shaped carefully, polished, fired, painted and fired again. The result is KAZURI, the Swahili word for "small and beautiful."

For a brief article and short video of the workshop:

Students tour Kazuri beads and get to practice make beads.

Hand-painting the individual beads.

Stringing the beads.

The lady ar right, in blue, is one of the original ladies hired by Susan Wood.

The kilns for beads and pottery

The stock

Tens of thousands of beads.    Taking orders by Internet.

Laying out a design

This line is used for making bracelets with memory.

No clasp needed as the wire returns to its coiled shape.   Look at that tanned arm, will you?

These people are sanding raw pottery to prepare it for glazing.

Hand-painting the pottery.

There are even outdoor jobs here.  This lady is keeping the grounds tidy.

Susan Wood passed away in 2006.   Kazuri Beads is now operated by the Newmans

My own purchases:

Memory bracelet.   Look at that winter untanned arm, will you!

Close up of bracelet.



  1. Great memories Jeanne. Can you believe it has almost been a year already since we were there?! Under two weeks to go and I have another group going. I wish you were joining us again. You sure recorded the events of the trip well. I've enjoyed reliving the trip through your blog. I'm looking forward to reading about your next African safari adventure.

  2. What a great story this is. And the beads are beautiful. It makes me wonder if they also sell them as marbles. How, I wonder, why, I wonder, isn't China in the background competing with them. Amazing. Thank you for this Post. Smiles from Cap and Patti.

  3. Again, amazing. What a difference one person can make. Susan Wood changed a lot of lives for the better and continues to do so even after her passing. Thank you, Jeanne, for carrying this story and message forward! Hugs. Patti and Cap