During our visit to the Ngorongoro conservation area we visited the Maasai settlement in the crater.
The Maasai put on a show with their tribal dancing and singing and then let us explore their houses where they talked to us about their way of living.
The Maasai are very welcoming and keen on sharing with us information about how they live.
For me, it was very interesting to see how other people on the globe live in such different means from the ones we know and it was fascinating to explore their society and culture. After all, it is true that travelling helps contribute in increasing tolerance of diversity.
The Maasai originated, according to their oral history, north of Lake Turkana (Kenya) in the lower Valley of river Nile in the 1400s. They then migrated South and now occupy mainly Southern Kenya and Northern Tanzania.
Their population is estimated to be around 2 million and is more or less equally distributed between Kenya and Tanzania.
The Massai lead a nomadic way of life and are pastoralists.
The Maasai’s tribal language is the Nilo-Saharan Maa, but a lot of them also speak the two countries’ official languages (Kiswahili and English).
The Maasai follow a monotheistic religion which worships Enkai. Some of them, however, have embraced Christianity and some other Islam.
Cattle and Diet
The Maasai believe that they are the rightful owners of all cattle and that this was God’s decision.
Merit is therefore reflected by the size of cattle population each Maasai settlement has.
Cattle is also their primary source of food and goods.
They explained to us that they do not eat many vegetables and fruits and that instead they feed on cattle meat and drink a mixture of cattle milk and blood (yikes!) as they believe it gives them strength.
They also use cattle skin to make the rugs they sleep on at night, and cattle bones for jewellery creations.
Cattle and the rug made of cattle skin (right)
The Maasai used to dress with animal skin, but now dress with Shuka’s – cotton colourful sheets rapped around their bodies. Red seems to be the most worn colour followed by blue, orange, green, yellow and mov.
The Massai also usually hold walking sticks made of either wood or metal.
I was also surprised to see that their sandals are made of plastic, usually a piece of old tyre.
Jewellery wearing is also particularly prominent; the jewellery is either made of cow bones or beads. The beads are polished using Ol-orondoi juice (see alternative medicine). Stretching earlobes and then hanging huge earings from the holes is particularly common in women. Big beaded circular necklaces are also worn while dancing to create ringing sounds.
Despite their overall fancy and colourful dressing and jewellery, both men and women keep their hair very minimal by simply shaving it.
Maasai live in the Bombas which are houses that can be carried when they decide to inhabit a different area.
Apparently, men are the ones to go out to collect the timber sticks and Oldovai leaves used to fasten the sticks together, despite the fact that it is actually the women of the settlement who to the arduous work of building the houses. Cow manure is also used to make the roofs of the Bombas, as it is waterproof.
The Maasai are quite a patriarchal tribe with men being the ones to mainly bring home food and the females being the ones to do chores and build houses.
There is a ritual where boys become Il-murran/ Morans (warriors).
The ritual starts by having 14-17 year old boys circumcised. The circumcision ceremony is performed without anaesthetic. Female excision has been reported even though at the specific settlement they claimed that it is no longer practised.
On the night of the ritual, the sticks of ol-atip trees are used to mark the house which the circumcision ceremony happens in. The boys have to eat an entire lamb each, which is spiced with ol – kilorit (another tree/bush the Maasai use for its benefits).
Following the ceremony night, each boy is dressed in black clothes and covered in white skin paint. Several boys form a group and go out into the wild for three months. It is up to them to find food and shelter for themselves and if they survive this period then they can be officially called Il-murrans. The ritual has changed over the years in that in the past the Il-murrans had to stay into the wild for an entire year and would only be officially called Il-murrans if they managed to kill a lion with their bare hands (I imagine these changes were made to help conserve the lions and also give the Il-murrans better chances of survival).
*Photo Taken from Wikipedia
To learn more about the Maasai read the posts on alternative medicine use and the Maasai markets.