Along the Great Rift Valley in southern Kenya and northern Tanzania live people with big hearts and eyes full of hope. The Maasai tribe.
As a part of the safari in Maasai Mara National Reserve and other national parks like Amboseli NP or Ngorongoro crater in Tanzania I had the opportunity to visit the Maasai villages. Today it is a part of a ‘tourist folklore’ as many of these villages are situated next to the national parks to earn money from tourists. The ‘entry ticket’ to visit the one of Maasai villages cost from 10 to 20 dollars.
After you pay to the Maasai chief you can enter the village where you can see how Maasai live, how they used to make fire before, they’ll sing and dance for you and show you their ‘famous’ jumping skills. After that you’ll be able to buy colorful necklaces, Maasai shuka (the cloth they wear), and other Maasai products.
I visited two villages, one in Maasai Mara, totally plastic, touristy and fake! In Amboseli I asked locals to show me around, some of the villages that are not just ‘made for tourists’. That was amazing and very valuable experience! Here are some of the things I learned from the Maasai about their tradition, customs, culture and life.
Entering the Maasai village
The Maasai are a semi – nomadic people, which is a result of their raising cattle and the need to find new grazing land and water. Today is estimated that app 1 million Maasai people live in Kenya and Tanzania.
The Maasai live in Kraals arranged in a circular fashion. The fence around the kraal is made of acacia thorns, which prevents lions and other predators from attacking the cattle. The Inkajijik (houses) are either circular or loaf-shaped, and made of mud, sticks, cow dung and cow’s urine.
It’s not easy to be a Maasai woman
Women are responsible for making the houses as well as supplying water, collecting firewood, milking cattle, cooking for the family and taking care of the children. And now you probably ask yourself ‘What the hell the Maasai men are doing?’ Well, they herd cattle and carry spears to protect their cattle from wild animals. Equally divided duties, right?
The Maasai tribe measures wealth by the number of cattle and children one has. Polygamy is normal and commonly accepted (the more the better!). Every man hopes that one day, with few wives hi will have many children and a large herd of more than a hundred animals.
Carrying fire woods – children job? Yes!
Cattle and food
The Maasai has a deep, almost sacred, relationship with cattle. They are guided by a strong belief that God created cattle especially for them and that they are the sole custodians of all the cattle on earth. Cattle are their primary source of food and income.
Traditionally, the Maasai rely on meat, milk and blood from cattle. They eat meat very rare, and then that is mostly goat meat. Usually, they eat ‘ugali’ – a dish made of maize flour (really, don’t taste so good) and drink tea with milk or goat milk.
My Maasai friend
Maasai ceremonies and rituals
The basic Maasai political and social structure is their rigid system of age-sets. For example, there are three levels for men. Childhood, warrior and elders. When the boy reaches the age of 15 he goes through a series of rituals and ceremonies. One of them is circumcision, without anesthesia or any kind of pain reliever. Women also go through a similar thing, to enter the adulthood.
No cattle, no marriage
Marriages are generally agreed. Desirable future husbands are those who have enough cattle to pay the price for the girl. No cattle, no marriage! After marrying, the girls leaves her village and lives with her husband, along with his other wives. And they become one, big happy family! They don’t know for jealousy or the relationship status ‘it’s complicated’. Everything is so simple, honest and transparent, without much thinking or philosophizing, incredibly!
Beautiful Maasai girls!
Thank you Africa!
Last year, also in April, I was in Papua, hanging out with Dani Tribe in Baliem Valley. How many similarities can be drawn between them and the Maasai tribe in Kenya. Though thousands of miles away, with totally different customs, tradition and history, these people have so many common things, that us, ‘the Westerners’ separate from them. Their simplicity of life, humanity and ‘eternal shine of the spotless optimism and mind’ are worthy of our admiration and respect.
I’m immensely grateful for having the opportunity to get to know people like the Maasai and for being a part of their community, even for a few days… a few days full of emotions, love, hope, laughter and joy as well as suffering and pain. That is Africa for me. Africa to which I will come back, again and again. Africa to which I will continue to help, always and forever. Africa that has taught me and teaches me so much, year after year. Thank you for being you – the most beautiful place on earth, full of flaws and imperfections and yet so incredibly gorgeous and divine. Hakuna Matata!