For African fashion lovers, a little known secret is the use of African cow horn jewellery to complement African dressing. It is unbelievable how much use can be made out of a cow horn. The hand crafts can be as many as one can produce but the main uses are in jewellery, tableware, office desk items and bathroom accessories. In tableware, they are mostly used as serving forks and spoons, salt and pepper shakers, sugar bowls, sauce boats, butter knives and Flower vases among others. And the cow horn is the most authentic vessel for drinking alcoholic African beverages. For the office desk, you get ash trays, letter openers, pen holders and many more. For the bathroom, you find combs,soap dishes, shoe horns and bathroom glasses.
It is in jewellery that the artisan mostly expresses himself. Due to the intensive process involved, the crafts men work on custom orders whether for retail or for quantity. Basically without giving out their secrets,the process is as follows. To get the most out of a cow horn, the Turitu craftsmen start with a careful selection of large horns imported from the famous Ankole cattle of the neighbouring country Uganda. The horn is then sawed into pieces depending what products have ordered. The horn is boiled in oil to soften it and molded into the desired item. After cutting and trimming into shape, it is sanded, varnished and painted and then hanged to dry. It is a slow and delicate process that requires many years of training and experience.
For Jewellery, the crafts men usually make ear rings, bangles, bracelets, finger rings, hair clips, belts, necklaces and chokers. They also combine the horn with brass depending on their customers orders. The beauty of the horn jewellery is that it is durable, unique,attractive, is not fragile and can be custom designed. And one can order as much as one needs but they have to give advance orders due to the lengthy and delicate process involved. And since the horn can be molded into almost anything, the crafts men also welcome new designs. However, for simple items like rings that don’t require much handwork, a large quantity can be produced within a short time.
The craft men have been quietly, exporting this jewellery and other cow horn items like combs for the last 30 years to many countries including United States of America and Europe. The manufacturing is done by men while retail selling is done by women in the local cultural markets. This small but highly skilled industry has created many opportunities especially for the youth who would otherwise be engaged in vice. For some reason, little is known of this Kenyan cottage industry even in Kenya itself. However, with more support from African fashion designers, government and other stakeholders, the industry can be a major foreign exchange earner.