Fish bones are finding a less than usual use in the slums of Kenya where they are being turned into jewellery.
Nile perch bones which come from the head, backbone and tail left after the fish are filleted for the European market are known as Mgongo wazi. Local slum dwellers rely on these frames as an important source of protein after they have been sun-dried and then deep fried.
Prior to the discovery of the bones’ unusual use, the skeletons were causing a nightmare for Kisumu Municipal Council as piles of them littered the streets. Now, the bones are being collected and turned into earrings, amulets, necklaces and pendants which are popular with both locals and tourists alike.
Projects have now been set up to provide women and children from the Nairobi slums with work collecting the bones and turning them in to trinkets.
Clementine Awino, 48, who left her job as vegetable vendor in Obunga to gather the bones can now afford to look after her six children and bedrideen husband. She says of the project: "I take two sacks of mbuta bones to Shinners Centre every month and earns Sh1,200 (around £9) — far much more than I made in vegetables."
Caroline Ogot, a local teacher and project co-ordinator at the Shinners Centre, a community organisation, pays local women to collect the bones. She is quoted in a local Kenyan newspaper The Standard saying: "The discovery is godsend…There is a growing demand for local products and ornaments made out of fish bones are no exception."
She adds that American and Australian tourists prefer bigger bolder designs while the British prefer the smaller jewellery. Most local socialite women apparently prefer purple designs as it signifies authority, organisation and love.
The process used to make the jewellery is demanding as the bones need to be boiled in water then vinegar, sorted, sun dried, sanded, coloured and then mixed with other African beads before being varnished.
The community project also helps over 70 children to raise money for food. Ogot adds: "The children insisted on being taught after watching the artists curve beautiful ornaments out of fish skeletons."