Cow Horn Wonder-ful
By mandella on June 17, 2015
Cow Horn & Jewellery
Jewellery made from cow horn & bone has been a long time tradition in Kenya. The use of this material for some people, is ‘off putting’ and even controversial. It is a personal choice of course, but knowledge is king, and I can tell you one absolute truth. Cows are precious assets over here, and if they are taken to the proverbial market, it is to feed the population. The beauty of what happens next in my opinion, is sheer resourcefulness – using what is at hand, and easily accessible, to create an income – which to be fair, is also to feed their population. Jewellery makers using horn are like the ‘go getters’ in our Australian community. They are using their skills, smarts and hands to create something of value from waste. And let me tell you, they waste NOTHING – especially if it is a material (such as horn) that can be used so superbly to adorn a beautiful women or make a young warrior feel 12 foot tall and unbeatable!
Jewellery made from cow horn & bone makes the most of what would otherwise be land fill. I love it, because the are providing for their families, using century old traditions and turning a waste product into something beautiful (by hand) for the world to see and be proud of. Setting an example if you ask me! x
Okay, now I have that out of my system and we know the ingeniousness behind using horn, let’s look at How they do it?
As you can imagine, each piece (bangle, ring, necklace etc) has a slightly different technique to get the desired finish. But let’s start with the Chunky Chain Necklace and the Bovine Necklace. Both stunning and both requiring some skilled & patient craftsmanship.
Firstly, the cow horn used is usually sourced from Uganda. They breed a cow called the Ankole Longhorn. They are originally native to Africa and are now breed in Uganda. They have super distinctive horns that can reach up to 2.4 metres from tip to tip! Although this is the preferred cow horn to use due to it’s size, horn sourced from the Kenyan sale yards are also used. Cow horn is round, hard on the outside and mostly hollow on the inside. It comes in two colours, natural & black, both with colour variations – each piece is absolutely uniquely it’s own.
To get the perfectly flat chain links used in the above two necklaces, they have to manipulate the horn. The larger section of the horns are cut in half and then boiled in old sump oil (waste product again! Love it). Once boiled, they become a little softer and can be straightened using a metal vice. They leave them in the vice until they dry and then, the horn will stay flat.
Once flat, each piece can be cut to shape. The outside shape is cut first, then with a drill, they create a hole in the centre, big enough for one of those tiny hack saws to cut out the centre. A labour of love! But that is not the end… Each piece has to be sanded, especially the rough sawn edges and then polished & buffed to it’s shinny finish. Once polished, all the variations of colour come through with an almost translucent quality. Horn is light to wear but highly durable & tough. Perfect medium for sustainable jewellery.
To join the links, every second link is finely cut to enable each link to be joined. They then super glue the joins, sand and polish AGAIN! The Bovine Necklace has a neckline of recycled brass links and a sand cast clasp and link. (More on the amazing process of using recycled metal to sand cast jewellery in a soon to be blog). The neckline of the Chunky Chain, is made from leather by another of our artisans, Kairu. There you have it, the labour of love behind these two necklaces. Kate. x