You saw the above picture in your email or in a social media post, and we asked if you knew what it was.

What you were seeing was a part of this photo:

The Turkana women wear these vibrant beads around their neck as a beauty accessory, just like many women around the world put on necklaces. In Turkana, though, it’s a rich tradition that begins when children are very young.

Initially, the beads are used to differentiate boys from girls; as they grow up, men will wear only one string of beads, but as girls grow, they will add more and more rings of beads.

The beads also play a role in weddings. Victor, Bright Hope’s project coordinator in Turkana, tells us that at the beginning of a wedding, the bride is decorated with many beads from her home around her neck. But after the wedding, the groom’s family will remove all the beads from the bride’s neck and replace them with a new set of beads from the groom’s side.

Also during the wedding, a wide, thin metallic ring is put around the bride’s neck instead of a wedding band for her finger. Most women will later use this ring to hold the key to their homes. Interestingly, Turkana women’s clothes never have pockets, so putting their key on the ring around their neck is considered the safest place to keep it.

And that’s the story behind the Turkana beads! We hope you’ll join us in January for our next “What Am I?”