Stepping in Chibanja Township in Mzuzu, chances are that you will notice a lanky man selling Maasai artwork.
Jugeni Merele, a 45-year-old Tanzanian Maasai, has become famous due to his hand-made beaded sandals, necklaces and belts that he sells in Mzuzu.
Merele’s pieces have become so fashionable that Mzuzu residents prefer to wear them to occasions such as weddings and parties.
“I did not expect that people in this country would like my artwork. It is amazing that I have more customers than expected. And actually, I do make a lot of money from selling my artwork,” he said.
Apart from selling beaded sandals, Merele also offers sexual traditional medicines.
With such solutions, the Tanzanian has become popular to couples and sexually active youths.
The medicine is termed dawa ya nguvu and, according to Merele, it assists in enhancing sex.
“Making traditional sexual medicine is my core business. I have been giving couples this medicine for a long time and I have been getting a lot of positive feedback from users,” said Merele.
He said the sexual medicine helps in getting couples to be sexually aroused.
“Customers seek sexual herbs for various reasons. I have several mixtures that suit specific aims. I do have sexual herbal medicine for erection sustenance, others for rapid sperm production, delayed ejaculation and penis enlargement. Customers have a wide range to choose from,” said Merele.
And when it comes to weddings and special occasions, Merele is a master decorator.
“Dressing depends on age, gender, place and occasion. I decorate clothes to make them look beautiful. My bead work plays an important part in the ornamentation of the women’s body and also as an identity of their position in society,” he said.
Merele said he makes beaded headgear and rings for beauty pageant winners.
He said he sources his beads locally.
“White beads are made from clay, shells and animal bones. Black and blue beads are made from charcoal, seeds, clay or horn. Red beads came from seeds, woods, gourds and bone. My artwork is really traditional,” he said.
While in Tanzania, Merele said European guests staying at a camp operated by the Maasai at Loita Hills enjoyed being taught how to bead by the Maasai.
“I am surprised that no Malawian has shown interest to learn how to beard. When I was in my home, tourists from England really wanted to learn how to beard. This is one area that one can earn a living through bearding as I am doing,” said Merele.
The Maasai are best known for their beautiful beadwork which plays an essential element in the ornamentation of the body.
Beading patterns are determined by each age-set and identify grades.
Young men, who often cover their bodies in ocher to enhance their appearance, may spend hours and days working on ornate hairstyles, which are ritually shaved as they pass into the next age-grade.
Maasai are the southernmost Nilotic speakers and are linguistically most directly related to the Turkana and Kalenjin who live near Lake Turkana in west central Kenya.
According to Maasai oral history and the archaeological record, they also originated near Lake Turkana.
Maasai are pastoralist and have resisted the urging of the Tanzanian and Kenyan governments to adopt a more sedentary lifestyle.
They have demanded grazing rights to many of the national parks in both countries and routinely ignore international boundaries as they move their great cattle herds across the open savanna with the changing of the seasons.
This resistance has led to a romanticising of the Maasai way of life that paints them as living at peace with nature.
Even as western biomedicine gains ground, people also continually search out more traditional remedies.
Maasai are often portrayed as people who have not forgotten the importance of the past, and as such their knowledge of traditional healing ways has earned them respect.
Laibons are easily found peddling their knowledge and herbs in the urban centers of Tanzania and Kenya.