The Maasai shield is made of cattle hide stretched over and sewn on to a wooden frame with leather strips. It has a handle attached across the centre at the back which is often covered with leather. Each shield is uniquely decorated with patterns made from natural and commercial dyes. The colours for the natural dyes were made from local materials: red by mixing earth with blood and fruit sap, white from local clays, and black from the skins of burnt gourds. Young warriors were allowed to use black, grey and white, while red dye was reserved for more experienced warriors. Shield designs are known as sirata and are related to the different groups of Maasai. The shield is not only a weapon but also a way of expressing Maasai art and culture.
A Maasai tribesman’s shield and spear are his key defences against wild animals and enemies. The spear is often used as a staff or stick to lean on as the Maasai can spend many hours standing completely still and guarding their cattle.