Maasai Tribe

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The Maasai Tribe is solitary one of Tanzania’s 120 different cultural groups, but is between the best known to the cowboy movie world due to their distinctive customs and dress, as well as living between some of the greatest collections of wildlife on earth. These traditionally nomadic herders and warriors live in northern Tanzania and southern Kenya in the vast open spaces of the Great Rift Valley, sometimes called Maasai land.

Fighters of a past era, the Maasai live much the same way their ancestors have done for centuries. Unconcerned about the passing of time, their lives are dictated by the rising and setting of the sun, the rugged landscape and the ever-changing seasons.

Masai and Tourism

28Notwithstanding the fact that Masai society is now facing many social, political and financial challenges, they have a history of being able to adapt to changing conditions. Their strong traditional customs and way of life allows them to live in harmony with their beloved surroundings, and now, cultural tourism programs are encouraging the Maasai to share their values and customs with others.

Maasai cultural meetings are relatively new in northern Tanzania. The best way to experience and learn about Maasai life is to visit a Maasai community, and to walk and hike through Masailand with your African Zoom guide.

Gain knowledge and skills from the Maasai*

* Share in an African bush experience accompanying our professional Maasai guides and trackers on a hiking tour

* Cross-cultural encounters with Maasai villagers away from the tourist circuit

* Home-Stay opportunities in traditional Maasai bomas

Cattle

According to Maasai legend, Lengai (God) entrusted all the world’s cattle to the Maasai for safekeeping when the earth and sky split at the beginning of time. To this day, the Maasai believe that all cattle on the earth essentially belong to them.

The Maasai are expert herdsmen, and cattle are central to the lives of a Maasai community. The community is based on the need to pasture, care, protect, and to move with them in search of fresh pasture and water.

Virtually all social roles and status in Maasai culture derive from the relationship of individuals to their cattle. The animals represent a means of:

* Food – Cow’s milk, along with blood, is the staple food of the Maasai who eat no grain or fruit.

* Currency – Buying and selling cattle is the tribe’s form of currency. They are traded for other livestock, cash, beads, clothing and food items.

* Wealth – Maasai wealth and status are traditionally calculated on the number of cows that an individual owns.

Homes and Villages29

A traditional Maasai home is called an enkaji, a low, loaf-shaped temporary structure made with branches and twigs overlaid with a “plaster” ; mixture of soil, cow dung and ash. Although small, an enkaji provides space for sleeping, cooking and some storage. They are usually damp, smoky, cramped for space, dark, and lack security and privacy. They are susceptible to fire, pests and harsh weather. The roof and the walls frequently crack and peel, requiring constant maintenance.

Several enkaji are arranged in a circular fashion around a central livestock pen (kraal) which creates a Maasai homestead, or boma which is traditionally shared by more than one family.

Customs and Ceremonies

The Maasai are a truly independent and proud culture with highly developed rituals revolving around age groups and initiations. Throughout Maasai life, almost every rite of passage from birth up to death is greeted with elaborate ceremonies and celebration with many recurring customs.

Red is the colour of the Maasai. It is the basic colour of the Maasai shuka, or red blanket that is often worn around the shoulders by both men and women. Red predominates their beautiful beaded jewelry, and their hair and bodies are smeared with red ochre for various ceremonies.

In Maasai culture the women and girls are responsible for building the family hut, taking care of the children, fetching firewood and water, washing clothes, milking cows and preparing the family meals. Maasai women are easily recognized by their bright clothing and beaded jewelry and are well known for their beadwork. Women admire the sound of jewelry and incorporate small dangling pieces of shaped metal to make a soft chiming sound. They wear beaded jewelry around the neck, wrists, legs and through their ears.

Maasai men are classed by age into three categories: boys, warriors and elders. Boys transition from herders to warrior, and then to elder status, holding varying responsibilities for cattle, protecting and advising the community.

The Maasai live in a polygamous family structure, where men have as many wives as they can afford. Wives are purchased with cattle, and children are considered a wonderful asset.

Maasai have spoken language, known as Maa, but no formal written language. Their history is recalled through storytelling.