Maasai Bone Carvings and Wooden Rungu, Kenya

Artist Unknown

These two bone carvings were made by the Maasai ethnic group in Kenya. I purchased them at the Maasai Market in Nairobi. The Maasai are pastoralists and, as such, do not waste any part of their cows, including the bones.

The first bone carving is called a rungu and is used for protection. Most Maasai carry a wooden version of this carving. However, this bone rungu is mostly ceremonial. It is a decorated type of rungu made for tourists and depicts the highly skilled bead work that Maasai women are known for.

The second bone carving is a popular tool with a variety of purposes, one being a smoking pipe. It can also be utilized to stretch and mold leather.

A photographer named Peter Beard published a book titled The Art of the Maasai, in 1992. The book popularized the Maasai bone carvings and by 1994, when I purchased these two, there were few left in the markets. Today, bone carvings such as these demand high prices and are seen mostly in museums.

Peter Beard’s book can be found at the Promega library.