The Fulani people of Mali are well known for their extravagant displays of wealth and status. Fulani women, in particular, are renownedly competitive, and will often wear every item of jewelry they own just to communicate the wealth and prestige of their husband or family. But there is another reason the Fulani adorn themselves with such a great many rings, necklaces and trinkets.
A traditionally nomadic tribe, the Fula amass their wealth in the form of small, portable items such as necklaces, gold earrings and beaded masks, as opposed to heavy paintings and sculptures which are too difficult to transport long distances. The reasoning behind this is that these items are far easier to carry – particularly if the tribe should come under threat of attack from neighboring tribes.
Fulani tribespeople are distinguishable from other cultures by the type of jewelry they wear. Whereas the Dogon people of Mali tend to use glass beads and natural elements in their jewelry creations, the Fulani prefer more expensive elements, such as gold, amber and brass. Fulani women can also be identified by their huge, extravagant gold earrings, known as “Kwottenai Kanye”.
Kwottenai Kanye are particularly popular among Fulani women in Mopti and Djenné, who receive them either as an heirloom on the death of a mother, or in the form of a gift from husbands. Traditionally, Fulani men seeking to impress those in their social group would sell an entire herd of cattle in exchange for bigger Kwottenai Kanye for their wives. Originally, they would have been made from 14-carat gold, and inscribed with either flowers or animals with a binding of red silk at the top. Modern interpretations are around 2.5 inches in length, however, traditional pairs can span anywhere between three and five inches from lobe to tip!