The Maasai People
The Maasai people are a Nilo ethnic group considered to be one of the tallest people in the world with an average height of 6 ft occupying the central and southern part of Kenya and northern part of Tanzania commonly known for settling around the Great Lakes Region game parks and reserves in addition to their customs and dress code. Their spoken language is Maa belonging to the Nilo-Sahara family with roots connecting to the Dinka and Nuer dialects of South Sudan but with the current state of Educational growths in Kenya, Tanzania and Africa at large, the Maasai people are starting to attain literacy by learning English and Swahili which are the official languages of Kenya and Tanzania. With their population estimated to be at 841,622 during the 2009 population census, there is massive increase compared to the 377,089 during the 1989 census.
The Maasai people have been persuaded by the governments of Kenya and Tanzania to abandon their traditional semi-nomadic culture and embrace the modern day lifestyle but the Maasai have continued with their old-age culture earning a living out it by allowing visitors into their homesteads at a fee and in exchange you experience their traditions, culture and lifestyle. Traditionally, they wore animal skins but today they were red sheets (shuka), which are wrapped around the body with several of beaded jewelry around the necks and arms. They are worn depending on the events and vary in color.
Historically, the Maasai people are believed to have migrated to Kenya and Tanzania through the present day South Sudan and settled in lower Nile valley around Lake Turkana in Northwestern Kenya and started migrating to central Tanzania in the 15th century arriving in the 17th to 18th centuries. The Maasai are related to the Samburu and the Kalenjin in Kenya who are pastoralists and famous for being warriors and cattle rustlers.
The Maasai people have settlements in the Southern part of Kenya stretching up to Lake Victoria and Northern part of Tanzania around Mount Kilimanjaro to the east in East Africa and the Maasai land extends 310 miles (500 kilometers) from north to south and about 186 miles (300 kilometers) at its widest east-west points. The Maasai live in Kraals arranged in a circular way. The fence around the kraal is from acacia thorns, which prevent lions from attacking the cattle. It is a man’s responsibility to fence the kraal and women construct the houses. Traditionally, kraals are shared by an extended family. However, due to the new land management system in the Maasai region, it is not easier to see a kraal occupied by a single family.
The Inkajijik (a maasai word for a house) is a loaf-shaped house made of mud, sticks, grass, cow dung and cow’s urine, while women are responsible for making the houses and supplying water, collecting firewood, milking cattle and cooking for the family, warriors are in charge of security while boys are responsible for herding livestock. During the dry season, both warriors and boys assume the responsibility for herding livestock mile away and return very late. The elders are directors and advisors for the daily activities happening in the Maasai communities. Every morning before livestock leave to graze, an elder who is the head of the inkang sits on his chair and states the schedule for everyone to follow.
The Maasai people depend on cattle for both food and cooking utensils where cattle ribs make stirring sticks, spatulas, and spoons. Horns are used as butter dishes and large horns shaped into cups for drinking of mead. Their traditional Maasai diet comprises six basic foods: meat, blood, milk, fat, honey, and tree bark. Wild game apart from the eland, chicken, fish, and salt are forbidden. Meats meant for consumption include roasted and boiled beef, goat, and mutton. Both fresh and curdled milk are drunk, and animal blood is drunk at special occasions like after giving birth, after circumcision and excision, or while recovering from an accident. It may be tapped warm from the throat of a cow, or drunk in coagulated form then it can also be mixed with fresh or soured milk, or drunk with therapeutic bark soups (motori). It is from blood that the Maasai obtain salt, a necessary ingredient in the human diet. Honey is obtained from the Torrobo tribe and is a prime ingredient in mead, a fermented beverage that only elders may drink. In recent times, fermented maize (corn) with millet yeast or a mixture of fermented sugar and baking powder have become the primary ingredients of mead in the Maasai land.
But recently, the Maasai have practiced Agriculture by farming maize, potatoes, cabbage, rice and sorghum especially those without land for herding cattle. But clearing of land for agriculture is considered a crime against nature and that the cultivated land will not be suitable for grazing.
Economically, livestock like sheep, goats and cattle are the main source of income to the Maasai and they believe all the cattle in the world belong to them. The Maasai economy is increasingly dependent on the market economy where livestock products are sold to other groups in Kenya for the purchase of beads, clothing and grains while cows and goats are sold for uniform and school fees for their school going children. It is obvious to encounter young Maasai men and women in major towns and cities of Kenya selling, not just goats and cows, but also beads, cell phones, chacoal, grain other products that they manufacture.
In the Kenyan capital of Nairobi, several Maasai markets exist in different places and days for example, Upper car park at the village market in Gigiri and Langinton Mall every Friday and Prestige plaza along Ngong road every Tuesday. They have further moved to other East African major urban centers including Uganda’s capital of Kampala, Jinja, Gulu, Mbarara and Soroti selling their handicrafts and artifacts including mead carried in 5 liter cans but the future of the Maasai is misty with modernization invading them and foreign cultures, but without doubt they are among the people with the richest cultures worldwide.
Planning to visit Kenya and would love to see the Maasai in person, we at Tristar Africa Skimmer Safaris will be more than happy to give you this cultural meeting of a life time. It could be a Maasai mara safari or a trip to their homesteads in nairobi or any other place , we take great pleasure introducing our clients to one of LUO’s most popular tribe. You can get in touch with us today by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call us on +254-713510387 to speak with our reservations team.