Maasai People Culture and History

The Land of The Maasai People

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 people 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.

Photo Elders of the Maasai People - Maasai Mara Kenya

Photo of my friend with the local Maasai elders after they met us outside their kraal.

Traditional Diet of the Maasai People

Traditionally the food of the Maasai tribe diet 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 Maasai people 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 consumption of cow’s blood as Maasai food is not as common as in prior years. In addition, some members of the Maasai 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. 

Traditional Maasai “Kraal”

The traditional Maasai village is called a Kraal which consists of traditional Maasai 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 of Maasai People Entering the Kraal

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

Photo Livestock Entering the Kraal at Dusk - Maasai People Culture and History

Once inside the kraal the livestock are further segregated among the individual Maasai houses.

The Traditional Maasai Houses

Photo Traditional Maasai Houses inside the kraal - Maasai People Culture and History

Traditional Maasai houses are located inside the Maasai village called a “Kraal”.

The tribal homes of the Maasai people 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.

Photo Traditional Maasai Houses Maasai Mara Kenya - Maasai People Culture and History

The Maasai people brew their own beer and the container above the hearth is used for that purpose.

“Adumu” – Jumping Dance of Maasai People

The Maasai tribe jumping dance is called the “adumu”. This “jumping dance” of the Maasai people 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 jumping 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.

Massai Tribe Jumping Dance Photo - Maasai People Cumture and HIstory

Ready, set, go! That is me on the right trying my luck at the traditional Maasai tribe jumping dance called the “adumu”.

Maasai Tribe Jumping dance - Maasai People Cumture and History

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 People are Lion Hunters

Lion hunting is an important aspect of Maasai history in this area. Our host 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 Maasai people 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.

Maasai Hat made from lion skin - Maasai People Culture and HIstory

The Maasai people sometimes make hats from the skin of the lions that they have killed.

Hat of the Maasai People made from Lion Skin - Maasai People Culture and History

It makes a pretty nice hat.

How the Maasai People Make Fire

The Maasai people are still able to use primitive fire starting methods similar to the San Bushman in Namibia.

Primative Fire Starting Methods of the Maasai People. - Global Travel Press

The elders of the local Maasai people demonstrate the ancient fire starting methods for us.

Traditional Jewelery of the Maasai People

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

Photo of trail back to the lodge from the Maasai Village

Walking the trail back to the lodge after visiting with the local Maasai people.

Conclusion

As we parted ways I explained that we were going to Amboseli next. It sounded peculiar, but our host would then issue an adamant denial that his tribe was in any way similar to the Maasai people located near Mt Kilimanjaro. 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 the Maasai people located 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 Maasai history. This is something that I have in common with this Maasai tribe. 

Although 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.

Photo of us with Maasai People at Maasai Mara.

Photo of us with Maasai People at Maasai Mara.

 

Additional Resources:

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