When planning a trip to Kenya, Africa we wanted to encompass enjoyment of the wildlife sightseeing, capture the beauty of the natural landscape, and learn about the culture. The Maasai Tribe are a great symbol of the strength of will power and resilience to preserve Kenyan tribal culture and heritages. And certainly worth stopping thru to get a glimpse and insight of their way of living and culture…even if it is the tourist version. I really wanted to know how the Maasai managed to not assimilate like the other tribes. Who better to ask than a Maasai directly.
In Kenya their are about 43 tribes, we learned all Kenyans actually belong to a tribe. I personally think this is very dope about Kenyan culture. It’s cool to have a established tribe to belong too, and have as a since of community. Intermarriage and assimilation has diluted some of the individual tribal traditions and rituals being past down to next generations. Increased migration from the rural areas to the cities in search of income for the family, reduces the frequency of tribal traditions being carried out. Kenya was colonized by Britain in 1865, and gained its independence from Britain in 1963. Most of the tribes have assimilated into the dominant “westernized” way of life, and handle their daily affairs just as everyone else around the globe.
However their is one major tribe with about 1 million people that refused to fully assimilate; and they are the Maasai Tribe. Strongly rooted in traditions handed down from generation to generation for centuries. The Maasai continue to live as cattle and livestock herders; they are semi-nomadic people that travel with their livestock herds. The men are known as warriors due to their survival skills and ability to fight wildlife to protect their herds and each other. Their warrior history is best known for fighting lions using spears and knives. Now not much lion hunting happens due to animal conservation, but their traditional presence of bravery is still recognized and respected.
Our journey was guided to the Maasai village near Amboseli National Park. Our driver asked if we would like to visit the Maasai village before heading on to the Kibo Amboseli camp site. We watched a lot of docu-series and read reviews regarding visiting the Maasai village and the Masai cultural traditions prior to visiting, and was still undecided about visiting. And I wasn’t sure if I could even get an answer regarding why this tribe did not fully assimilate. That’s kinda of like asking one black person in America to represent all black Americans asking questions about what’s it like to be black in America. You will likely only get that persons perspective, not a macro level answer. But when the moment arrived, it became a no brainer…why would we NOT visit the Maasai village when we are so close to it.
We agreed upon a nominal price to pay to see the village $10 each and scheduled a 1hour visit. The Maasai also travel to the hotel to perform and sing for the guest; but its not the same as visiting the village.
Honestly speaking I was also hesitant to visit the village due to other travelers reviews regarding pushiness for money. Some stating it to be a watered down tourist trap with overpriced souvenirs being forced upon you to buy. I had to put things in perspective. In America and most places in the world NOTHING is free..so why wouldn’t Maasai charge to see their village, and try to make money on their crafts? Also value is placed on things and time by the individuals partaking, and all things are negotiable. The beauty of travel is experiencing something for yourself to form your perspective and life moment.
I’m also VERY picky about buying souvenirs. It is a hobby to seek art, and unique souvenirs from every country we visit. I had a feeling I would be able to spot, and buy the authentic crafted items from the village elder ladies. I love collecting art with a story behind it, and truly was looking forward to the “merchant circle” aspect of the visit.
Side note: As you travel thru Safari plenty of people will try to sell generic China made trinkets, carvings, and souvenirs. It’s perfectly ok to take a hard stance when people are being pushy and negotiating items, this is to be expected. Take your time and look at the items the person is trying to sell. You will easily recognize the items each person has over and over again like the Maasai warrior carvings and bracelets. However some of the local merchants are also selling items they crafted by hand, the work is absolutely beautiful. If you love art I’m sure you will find some true treasures while in Kenya.
For our visit we were warmly greeted and welcomed by the Medicine Elder, and some of the members of the community. The welcoming song harmony was lead by the Olaranyani – translates to song leader. The energy in the air is very lively, alert, and joyful. We couldn’t resist the invite to stand with and join in the moment. The singing, chants, and movements carrier a contagious frequency and vibration, its very empowering to experience.
After the welcoming song and Adumu performance, we were told what too expect of the tour by the Maasai medicine man. We would be able to:
- See and visit the homes called inkajijik
- Watch the Maasai survival skills in action as they create a fire
- Review some herbology and medical practices and remedies
- See the children school and education area
- Shop for souvenirs from the village women, merchant circle.
The men are ready to show off their jumping skills for the camera.lol. They asked my husband to join in. It’s not as easy as they make it look, but very cool to watch them do it. The Adumu; jumping dance is one aspect of Maasai ritual culture, that is apart of the Eunoto ceremony. The Eunoto ceremony is a rite of passage ceremony for men transitioning phases of life to manhood. A Eunoto ceremony can last for more than 10 days, and includes singing, ritual cow slaughter, Adumu, and other traditions.
Visiting the living area beyond the Kraal walls was interesting to see. The village is surrounded by brush and trees that are like natural barbed wire. This serves are protection against animals wandering into the small village. The woman are in charge of building the homes called Inkajijik, which are made with mud, sticks, grass, cow dung, and cow urine.
The inkajijik we visited consist of three rooms. The bedroom/sitting room, the children’s sleeping area, and eating area. The only windows are located in the bedroom, which are simply two small openings to let in light. Most of their time is spent outside of the home. The people are more than eager to share information regarding their way of life. And as I expected there was no one answer as to how and why the Maasai have not fully assimilated.
The women and children are outside handling daily chores and playing. The woman are primarily responsible for building and maintaining the homes, collecting water from the watering holes (which can be miles away), cooking, tending too and educating the children, and are expected to have lots of children. The marriages are arranged, and require an endowment of cows from the man to the father of the bride. It is not unusual for a young lady age 13 to be married to a significantly olde man. The men are polygamist and have more than one wife if they can afford it. The women are also traditionally circumcised and their hair is cut off to show submission and no aggression.
The men are primarily responsible for tending to the livestock and protection. The men also endure a right of passage ritual which includes circumcision and shaving their hair off. Survival in the wilderness is a skillset the Masai men must master to transition into manhood. Knowing how to start a fire is one of the skills demonstrated while visiting. They each took turns showing off their skills to generate enough energy thru the stick to ignite a fire with the leaves. Once he got it going, it was cool to see the pride each took in their contribution.
To answer my question of how and why the Masai have not fully assimilated. I was informed in general they find it more beneficial to continue to live as they traditionally have done; with nature. There is no need to get caught up and hassled with the ways of the western world, because it always changes. Some of the Maasai have partially assimilated and have jobs as guards, and security. But most remain livestock herders and trade with each other and some merchants in the city. Their land has been reduced by the National Parks to preserve the wildlife, which has an affect on the herding trails. But they fight to keep their traditions and culture going. They have adapted some of their traditions due to its illegal to perform female circumcision, and illegal to kill certain animals. But both are still done by some within the various tribes due to its their way of life and rite of passage.
The merchant area at the end of the tour is a circle of all the women and families who have something to sell. This is the only part that it felt pushy, but not in a way that I felt uncomfortable. My husband and I are use to negotiating and dealing with these types of situations so it didn’t offend us. Plus this one of the parts I enjoy about traveling….Shopping! We are guided to the each persons area with something for sale, and then walked by each person to view their items. We were not allowed to skip over anyone, we are guided back to the person if we skipped over them. Most of the trinkets, necklaces, bracelets etc are the same from person to person. And appear to have been purchased from retailers, and not handcrafted.
Some also claim to have lion claws, crocodile teeth etc, but it didn’t seem real, or something we would want to bring back to the states. We respectfully looked at everyone’s items and politely declined to purchase. I was trying not to rush to get to the side of the circle with the elders, but I think I was being obvious.lol. The older women have items they have crafted themselves. It’s very clear to see the beautiful craftsmanship of their work, the women take great pride in their handcrafted beaded jewelry and art pieces.
We wanted to support their local economy, as well as pay tithes with gratitude in our own way to the people. We sincerely appreciated them opening their village to us and answering our questions. We did purchase a few trinket items; a giraffe hair bracelet, a woven Kenya bracelet, and Uganda paper bead necklace from the younger women. The giraffe tail hair bracelet is cool. Its adjustable and is made from genuine giraffe tail hair. I adore giraffes, and don’t think I could find such a bracelet anywhere in America. It quickly became a must have wearable keepsake.
I fell in love with two particular items that were created by an elder woman. An authentic Maasai hand beaded cow tail fly-whisk; and beaded collar necklace. There was no way I was leaving this village without buying these artifacts for the culture. The colors of the beads have symbolic meaning:
- Red= bravery, strength, and unity
- White= purity
- Blue= energy and represents the sky
- Green= land
- Orange and Yellow= hospitality
- Black= the people and all they have to endure
My mental space was in total gratitude and good vibes mode with this cultural experience. Totally proving personal experience is one of the best benefits of traveling. You can engulf into cultures, and the vibe of the people into all of your senses; forming your own perspective. Exploring helps build your own empowering mental bank of things you have observed, and learned.
Let us know how your culture travel experiences have been in the comments below.
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