If you are going to visit the Maasai Mara, an experience that I absolutely recommend, it is convenient to know something about the people who inhabit this wonderful natural environment and spectacular corner in the planet. The visit to a Masai village is a way to get into the customs and cultural traditions of this community.
The Masai inhabit the lands of Kenya and Tanzania and are a tribe respected for their immense value, they are tremendously proud of their origins and history and they maintain a deep sense of friendship.
The livestock importance
The Masai were an ancient warriors tribe who, today, are semi-nomadic shepherds who forage for pasture in the lands in the Masai Mara, moving their herds from one area to another in order to make the grass grow back.
According to the Maasai mythology, this community was created by the god Enkai to serve as shepherds over all the existing livestock in the world. For a long time, the Masai considered themselves owners of all the herds on earth. This was a common cause of conflict with other neighboring communities.
Of course, the main source of wealthfor the Masai is based on livestock, in addition to being their main food source, since they extract milk, meat and blood from it. The fact of owning many animals is a symbol of power and wealth, this condition has its relevance when entering into marriage, since the dowry is materialized in animals (goats, cows and sheep). Each family has an average of ten livestock animals.
Sometimes men spend whole days away from home looking for the best grazing spots for their animals. These trips become an adventure for the Masai shepherd, since they must demonstrate their experience and knowledge about the territory and the animals that inhabit in it. The work of shepherd begins very early, being at the early age of five years when they begin to help with the animals.
Today there are approximately 880,000 Masai and, although their lives revolve around livestock, many Maasai have other jobs and professions, living with absolute respect for their traditions.
Masai means “one who speaks the Olmaalanguage” in Swahili, that is, “those who have a common language.” One of the fundamental principles of this town is to transmit, from generation to generation, all the knowledge acquired by the elderly to the youngest. A community system in which they learn about plants, animals, customs, the history and people origins. This knowledge is transmitted orally through legends, sentences, proverbs and stories in order to facilitate their learning.
Masai Typical Masai settlement
The Maasai village is called boma, enkang or kraak, depending on the area, and has a circular shape. It is a set of huts built with adobe, manure and branches called ‘manyatas’ and arranged in a circle in order to protect the interior from predators. These houses are surrounded by a second barrier, which consists of an acacia fence full of thorns in order to avoid the attack of lions and other wild animals, and the livestock uncontrolled exit.
How are they organized?
The Masai boast of having a very hierarchical organization around age groups and men.
Within the tribe, the society is structured in three groups, according to age:
- · Boys and girls.
- · Young people and adolescents.
- ·Adults. These, in turn, are divided into men and women, and whether they have offspring or not.
The man in the tribe
There are four vital phases:
- · Since childhood.
- · Lesser warrior.
- · Senior warrior.
- · Adults.
They are organized into clans and, as they pass each phase, they assume rights and responsibilities. With 16 years is when they become adult warriors, age at which they are circumcised.
According to tradition, to become an adult warriorthe young Maasai had to hunt a lion, with his bare hands, as a test of manhood. A rite of passage that, today, due to the protection of lions, whose population is at risk of extinction, and the deep respect for the nature of the Masai, has become a mock celebration. Many Maasai warriors have even become guardians and protectors of the lions.
The women role in the tribe and marriage
As in almost all African tribes, polygamy is a common practice in the Masai tribe. Generally, marriages are agreed by the parents from the women childhood, being they the ones who choose the son-in-law (child) based on the number of animals that the family owns.
Although, as happens in most African communities, women play a fundamental role, since they are in charge of everything related to the daily life of the people. They build the manyatas, take care of the youngest, clean and maintain the house, prepare the food and make their ornaments and crafts.
Learn more about our project to support Maasai women.
The Masai mainly eat milk, butter, blood, honey, and meat. According to their tradition, they should not ingest milk and blood at the same time, since it is forbidden to feed, at the same time, on a living animal and another dead one.
Their function is to watch over the cattle, while the women milk the animals.
When they are five years old, their two lower incisors are removed, not only for aesthetic reasons, but also to be able to feed them with a straw without problems, in case of contracting tetanus disease.
Learn more about our Masai education Project.
Conflict and peace
One of the curiosities of the Masai warriors is their symbolism with the spear. If the tip is pointing towards the ground, it can be taken as a great provocation.
On the contrary, a symbol of peace is to offer a handful of grass. Due to their livestock tradition, the Masai endow the grass with a sacred character, since it is the food of their livelihood, livestock.
Masai music and dance
The Masai do not need instruments in their ceremonies. Their powerful voices and choirs serve as a musical instrument for them. In addition, their dances are famous, in which they compete to see who gets the highest jump.
We recommend the wonderful experience of visiting a Masai village, where you can enjoy and learn, in situ and first-hand, their curiosities and customs. Contact us!