Bead Bai

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Bead Bai

Authored by Sultan Somjee

Sakina is an embroidery artist growing up in the shanty town of Indian Nairobi, a railroad settlement in British East Africa in the early 1900s. At home there are many storytellers like her stepmother, grandfather and uncle whose stories blend into histories of India and East Africa that flare her child's imagination. In her tormented married life, while becoming a woman, Sakina finds comfort in the art of the beadwork of the Maasai.

Bead Bai is one woman's story inspired by lives of Asian African women who sorted out, arranged and generally looked after huge quantities of ethnic beads in urban and isolated rural parts of the British East African Empire. The availability of wide varieties of beads and colours from the entrepreneurial Indian bead merchant reaching out to the most distant communities, heightened diverse vernacular expressions of body décor. Often it was the Bead Bai - the merchant's wife, mother and daughter, who handled beads that today comprise singularly the most significant material for maintenance of this feminine and indigenous art heritage of East Africa.

This is a historical novel drawn from domestic and community lives evolving around women's art. Both are of considerable social and artistic values among two culturally unalike people living side by side as separate yet inter-reliant societies on the savannah. One object is the bandhani shawl of the Satpanth Ismailis, a trading settler Asian African community adhering austerely to a distinct faith tradition rooted in Sufism and Vedic beliefs that imbibed Sakina's spiritual life. The other is the emankeeki, a beaded neck to chest ornament of the Maasai, a pastoralist African people to whom the savannah is the ancestral home and source of their art, spirituality and well-being that Sakina came to value as a part her own life.
Note: From the 1970s following the expulsion of Asians from Uganda, Satpanth Ismailis from East Africa began coming to the West, particularly to Canada, in large numbers. Many Bead Bais came with their families to the new country. Some lived through their senior years with their sons and daughters, and some died in nursing homes. Today their descendents live across the provinces of Canada and the greater Asian African diaspora.

Publication Date:
1475126328 / 9781475126327
Page Count:
Binding Type:
US Trade Paper
Trim Size:
6" x 9"
Black and White
Related Categories:
Fiction / Historical / General

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