The Life of the Maasai People, a Kenyan Tribe in East Africa

The famous Maasai Mara tribe in Maasai Mara Village, Kenya

Kenya is a country in the African continent with an ethnically diverse set of cultures and traditions. Ethnicity is an integral part of Kenyan society. There are over 40 ethnic groups currently existing in this African country. One of the most popular of these is the Maasai Tribe. Maasai Tribe was the dominating tribe at the beginning of the 20th century and comprised over 800 thousand people. They can be found in both Kenya and Tanzania. They are known for their colorful culture and history. 

 

HISTORY

The Maasai Tribe originated from the North of Lake Turkana or the Northwest of Kenya in the lower Nile Valley. During the 17th to 18th century, they migrated to their current homeland between Southern Kenya and Northern Tanzania. In the 19th century, Maasai territory extended to its most extensive, covering Kenya and half of the neighboring country, Tanzania. They searched for cattle up until the Tanga Coast in Tanzania. Aside from using spears and shields, they were feared for throwing orinka (clubs), which could be thrown from up to approximately 100 meters. The Maasai have been known for long as fearsome hunters and warriors. During the time of 1883 to 1902, it is estimated that 60% of their population lost their lives due to smallpox, drought, and starvation after an animal disease known as rinderpest killed all of their raised cattle. In the early 20th century, vast Maasai territory sections were turned into National Parks and wildlife reserves. The Maasai people were not pleased as the Kenyan Government pressured them to give up their traditional semi-nomadic lifestyle and settle on permanent homes, which up to this day, they are resisting to do. At the present time, although Maasai people are facing pressure from the evolving outside world, they have maintained their unique cultural identity and traditions. They have been able to select which elements of modernity and western culture to reject or accept. 


A Maasai warrior at their lookout point

CULTURE

The Maasai tribe is patriarchal, having older men often joined by the retired elders deciding on their society’s significant critical matters. Among the Maasai culture, the lion is their totemic animal that could be killed. Their main activity is the herding of cattle as it is central to their lifestyle. Traditionally, the Maasai diet consists mainly of raw meats, raw blood, and milk. Wealth is measured in the number of cattle one has and the number of children. A man with 50 herds of cattle is respected in society, and if they have more children, they are appreciated even more. A man with many children but not many cattle is considered inferior. Likewise, having many cattle but without children is also regarded as low. Maasai people are usually polygamous. Women in the tribe can marry a man together with his entire age group as well. A man gives up his bed for a visiting male guest. It is common for the woman to join the male guest in bed if she desires.


Despite being prohibited by Kenyan and Tanzanian legislation, feminine sex organ circumcision has long been widespread within the Maasai culture. However because of activists' campaign, this observe is currently decreasing, substituted by a symbolic cutting, with songs and dances instead of blades.


Due to the patriarchal nature of the Maasai Tribe, where men are at the top of the social hierarchy, most of the women live a life of cultural oppression and poverty. Their life expectancy is only until 45 years old, and they suffer many physical discomforts living with a family that they did not personally choose. Despite living a tough life, Maasai girls are robust and positive with a decent bond of sisterhood among each other.


Maasai men in Maasai Mara village

When Maasai women have a difficult life, Maasai men are taught the responsibilities of being a man from when they begin to walk. They are trained to be warriors. Being born a Maasai man is being held to one of the world’s largest and influential warrior cultures. They are the great source of pride of the Maasai people and are often celebrated through rituals and ceremonies. Young Maasai boys are taught and guided by their fathers and other elders to master cultural practices, customary laws, and other responsibilities as a warrior. 

 

The Maasai people are monotheistic in outlook. They worship a single deity called Enkai or Engai, known to have manifested in two forms: the black God, who was kind and benevolent, and the red God, who was vindictive and unforgiving. The most crucial figure within the Maasai faith is the laibon, a sort of priest whose role historically includes healing, divination, and prophecy.

 

HOUSING

The Maasai, historically a nomadic people, their shelters are often loosely constructed and semi-permanent. They are co-existing with wildlife and mostly rely on readily available materials and indigenous items like mud, grass, wood, and cow-dung to create their unusual and interesting housing, which the women build. 

 

CLOTHING

Up until the 20th century, Maasai people are known to have dressed in animal skins. This has become their traditional dress; however, as time goes by, animal skins have become harder to attain that’s why they have replaced it with a sheet of fabric known as the shuka. Maasai people have become popular with the way they dress. They cover their bodies with shuka and accessorize themselves with beaded jewelry around their neck and arms. Their clothes are usually seen in red color, both worn by men and women but may also vary depending on the occasion. 


A Maasai man wearing traditional colorful ornaments and clothing

Maasai people are known for their stretched earlobes using stones, woods, and bones. Stretched earlobes are seen as a symbol of knowledge and respect. Maasai men and women shave their heads during marriage and circumcision, except for Maasai warriors, who are the only ones allowed to grow their hair and usually have it braided

 

MUSIC AND DANCE

Maasai people are also known for their jumping form of dance which warriors traditionally carry out. Their dance is called adumu or aigus. They form a semicircle and take turns jumping in the center without letting their heels touch the ground. While each one jumps, others sing a song whose tone depends on the height of the jump. 


Maasai men jumping as a form of a dance called adumu or aigus

Maasai Village can be found in Maasai Mara in Nairobi, Kenya, and is open to tourists’ visit. Maasai people are welcoming and would entertain visitors from all over the world and would be happy to show them their culture and traditions. 


Maasai men interacting with visitors

Needless to say, “Maasai tribe cultural experience” is one of the must-try highlights of Kenya’s safari. A very unique, interesting, and engaging activity as you learn how the Maasai tribe co-exist with nature in balance and harmony for centuries.

 

Rakso Travel can help you have a glimpse of the life of the Maasai tribe. We offer a tour package to Kenya, which includes a Maasai Village visit where you can have a friendly encounter with the Maasai people. This experience will surely be a memorable one and must not be missed.

 

What are you waiting for? Plan your Kenya trip and fly with us soon.

 

Blog Contributor: Bern Valdez

Photos by: Rakso Travel and Africa Partner

 

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