Maasai village

We took a break from our game drives to visit a Maasai village in the Maasai Mara park. The Maasai are known to be the most isolated and traditional tribes in East Africa. Not surprisingly, most Maasai villages are known to be cautious around strangers, but this particular village caters to tourists by letting people come by and observe their customs for a fee. The chief, who I found to be very business savvy, spoke fluent English and led us on a guided tour.

He explained that they use these tourists fees to send their children to local boarding schools (commuting is not an option when lions roam the plains). His children attend a school partially funded by American donations, and he thanked our people for our generosity. In return I thanked the Kenyan people for our president.

The tour began with the men demonstrating a traditional dance. They stood and shifted in a semi-circle, with most of the men singing harmonies and one leader singing the main melody. They then took turns coming to the middle of the circle and jumping. High. Very high. Being Filipino and therefore a tragic basketball fan (tragic because its the national sport and obsession of a people who’s average male height is 5’4″), I was in awe of their tall frames (this first guy was about 6’5″) and the way they repeatedly bounced into the sky.

Inside one of the mud houses, the chief explained that their tribe continues the traditional lifestyle, where men herd their cattle through the plains (they often graze alongside zebras and wildebeest) and defend them from predators. The women maintain the village and build the mud houses.

Their traditional food staple is cow’s blood mixed with cow’s milk. I asked him how many cows they have to kill to do this, and he explained that they don’t kill cows daily. Instead, several men hold one cow still, and they lance the jugular vein and let a few liters of blood pour out before patching it up.

Now that most their children attend boarding schools (which are a mix of different tribes) they are exposed to other children with more westernized habits. At one point one of his sons came home and asked his dad to trade a goat for some hamburgers and fries.

The children looked extremely happy to be back on their break from classes, and were running around the village, laughing and saying “hello mizungu (white person) how are you!!!”. The chief said he was a little sad they would be going back to boarding school by the end of the week. The only kid staying behind is his newborn son, for whom they threw a celebratory feast the other day complete with barbecued goat!

Overall, it was a fascinating experience. I enjoyed seeing the dance, and they enjoyed it when they insisted I join them. This was not a window into a socially isolated people. Many of the villagers spoke excellent British English, a few had cell phones, and they were very active in trade with other neighboring tribes (whom often dressed in western clothes and drove Chinese-made motorcycles around). Yes it was somewhat artificial, a show for tourists, but together with our discussions it was an honest window into how very old traditions meet a continuously changing world.


Published in: on May 12, 2011 at 6:21 pm  Comments (1)  

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  1. Ray that was a very interesting description of the Masai people. I am still going to try to blow up some of the facial pics to study the shape of the head, examine the teeth and look at the ears. The teeth look very straight. Have you examined any mouths? I sent Rachel an interesting study of the importance of AIDs medicine. It was in the NYTimes this evening. I am going to take another look at any stories haven’t read yet. I was also interested in the blood and milk story. So I guess the jugular veins heal and allow more blood to replace lost amount. Like post blood bank replenishment. Have you bought any necklaces? I’d like one. Papa Norman

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