Maasai: The Tale of Two Tribes

The Land of The Maasai

The Maasai people live in East Africa dispersed throughout Northern Tanzania and Southern Kenya.  They live off the land and lead a traditional semi-nomadic lifestyle.

However, due to global warming drought has become a common occurrence in East Africa. Therefore, cattle herds are smaller than they have ever been and the Maasai are under pressure to adapt their lifestyle to modern conditions.

After our full day safari at Maasai Mara we visited a traditional Maasai village located near our lodge.

maasai eldersPhoto of my friend with the Maasai elders after they met us outside their kraal. 

Traditional Diet of the Maasai

Traditionally the food of the tribe comes from their cattle and includes milk, meat and blood. They also make their own traditional beer and it is not uncommon for them to brew it in their own homes.

Typically, the blood from cattle is only consumed by the tribe on special occasions. Health benefits include being rich in protein and it also helps to strengthen the immune system. It is not distributed evenly among tribal members. Accordingly, it is only given to circumcised people, the sick and it is also consumed regularly by tribal elders.

However, due to dwindling cattle numbers the traditional consumption of cow’s blood is not as common as in prior years. In addition, some members of the tribe have begun to grow their own food although farming the land is considered to be a crime against nature. This belief is based on the fact that the land cannot be used for grazing after it has been cultivated. 

Maasai “Kraal”

The traditional Maasai village is called a Kraal which consists of traditional houses arranged in circular fashion surrounded by a fence. Importantly, the livestock of the Kraal are brought inside the fence every evening to protect them from lions. The fence is constructed of acacia thorns to make it more effective. Young boys are responsible for herding the livestock.

livestock entering the kraalThe livestock are being led through the fence into the kraal for the evening.

photo maasai kraal Once inside the kraal the livestock are further segregated among the individual households.

Maasai Home

Their tribal homes are constructed using mud, grass, sticks, cow dung and cow urine. Traditionally, it is the responsibility of the women to construct the home and the men build the fence to protect the kraal. traditional maasai home inside the kraal

We were invited inside the house.

traditional Maasai house maasai mara kenyaMaasai brew their own beer and the container above the hearth is used for that purpose.

Traditional “Adumu” Dance

Their most tribal common dance is called the adumu. This “jumping dance” is preformed when the young male tribal members form a circle with one or two of them jumping in the center. Traditionally, it is assumed that the one who can jump the highest is the best warrior and will also be able to choose the most desirable bride.

Fortunately, we were able to try out the dance and also get some insights into other important traditions of the tribe. After some encouragement I agreed to try my luck at the jumping dance.

traditional maasai adumu danceReady, set, go!

traditional maasai adumu dance

I think I did pretty well although he nudged me out by a few centimeters. However, I am not sure I was doing it correctly because my heels are supposed to be together and it is supposed to look effortless. 

The Maasai are Lion Hunters

Our host next explained that they still hunt lions in his tribe. Although, they are not allowed to hunt inside the park, the lions can also be found near the village. The lions are the traditional enemy of the tribe because the lions will kill their livestock if given the opportunity. Thus, killing a lion is the mark of a great Maasai warrior and it is a noble feat.

However, the hunters do not use guns instead they use spears to kill the lion. This is hard to believe although I do not have reason to doubt his word. Overall, my impression of them was that they were very dignified and proud of their traditions. He showed me the lion skin from the kill he made to achieve warrior status.

lion skin from maasai hunt

It also makes a pretty nice hat.

lion skin from maasai hunt

How the Maasai Make Fire

They are able to use primitive fire starting methods similar to the San Bushman in Namibia.

maasai making primitive fire

Now it was time for some jewelry shopping and then we would be heading back to the lodge.

maasai jewelry

Walking the trail back to the lodge.

Conclusion

As we parted ways I explained that we were going to Amboseli National Park next. It sounded peculiar, but our host would then issue an adamant denial that his tribe was in any way similar to the Amboseli Maasai. After getting acquainted with the other tribe I completely understood why he would not want to be mixed up with them.

Also, of note was that this tribe at Maasai Mara were not carrying cell phones or any other tech gadgets which would make it appear that they were not 100% committed to their traditional lifestyle. Of note, is the fact that I also do not use a smart phone.

In contrast, at Amboseli they always seemed to be amusing themselves with their smart phones. The exception would be when they were too busy drooling on my female friend.

I was a bit skeptical of our hosts commitment to the traditional lifestyle. I asked him if he was given an opportunity to move to Nairobi and live in the suburbs – would he do it? The answer was an unequivocal NO.

maasai tribe maasai mara kenya

 

 

 

 

 

 

Additional Resources:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maasai_people
http://www.maasai-association.org/maasai.html