Updated: Mar 29, 2020
The Maasai are a Nilotic tribe found in Southern Kenya and Northern Tanzania. They are among the very few African ethnic groups that still hold fast to their original culture, even after embracing formal education and Christianity. This makes the national reserves of Kenya, where they live peacefully alongside game animals, the perfect destination for anyone who desires to immerse themselves into real, authentic African culture.
The Maasai are a semi-nomadic people who are passionate about taking guests for a walk through the wild, while showing you a little about their culture and teaching you a few Maasai words to take home. They have often been ranked by travellers as among the friendliest people in the world.
The Maasai traditional diet is composed mainly of smoked meat, milk and blood from cattle. The meat is prepared by barbequing or smoking. A mix of milk and blood is mostly drunk during special occasions like to a woman who has just given birth, a circumcised person or a willing guest. More recently many of them have become farmers. They mostly cultivate maize, potatoes and cabbage. This is not approved of traditionally as the Maasai believed that tiling the land for crop farming is a crime against nature.
Probably among the most colorful attire in the world, Maasai dress consists mainly of red, blue and black shukas made of cotton. They adorn themselves with multiple colored necklaces, earrings, bangles and anklets that many people around the continent have adopted as a symbol of African beauty.
Beyond fashion, each beaded ornament represents certain Maasai culture and values. Unmarried women wear large, flat beaded discs around their necks while dancing as a sign of flexibility. A bride wears an elegant heavy beaded neck piece and once married, she puts on a long necklace with blue beads. The higher your status is, the more colorful your beads are.
Different color beads represent different meaning. Blue is the color of the sky and represents energy. Red signifies blood, bravery and unity, green is the color of grass and represents land and production, black represents the people and the struggle they endure, yellow is reflective of the sun, fertility and growth and orange represents warmth, generosity or friendship. Their sandals are mostly made from leather or rubber tires and adorned by beads as well.
A large part of their income comes from selling shukas and their beautiful jewelry at reasonable prices. You may choose whichever colors you feel bring out your personality best.
The Maasai have a prayer that goes “May the Creator give us cattle and children.” These are the most important aspects of the Maasai life and as it would follow, most of their culture and practices are built around nurturing them.
From their childhood, Maasai boys are taught the responsibilities of being a warrior. They are taught cultural practices and customary laws that they will require as an elder, and are put in charge of the cattle in the fields as they graze.
At about 14 years, every boy in the village of about that age comes together to form an age-set. This is the first step toward initiation into manhood. They then travel across their sections of the land announcing the formation of a new age-set. They build a kraal with about 30 to 40 houses where all the boys of the region will be taught and then initiated. The day before their circumcision, the boys must sleep in the forest, and at dawn, run to the village with the attitude of a raider. Once the operation is complete, he is considered a warrior, ready to protect and fight for the community. This is the highest among the highest honors placed on a Maasai man that every boy looks forward to.
Maasai lion hunting
In order for a boy to be initiated, he must prove himself a man. Traditionally, this was done by hunting lions, which were abundant throughout Maasailand. They would search deep in the forest and grassy plains, then chase him with rattling bells to the open plains. This loud chasing game irritated the lion and forced him to face the hunter. The warrior would first give the lion a chance to fight, and then make his move. Lion hunting was all about challenging another creature without cheating in order to show true bravery. He would then have the mane beaded by the women and given back to him to wear as a sign of being the toughest warrior.
It is important to note that lion hunting was outlawed in both Kenya and Tanzania in an attempt to preserve wildlife and the Maasai have held strong to their other initiation practices instead.
Young girls are taught roles like building houses, making beadwork, cooking and cleaning by their mothers and older women. Traditionally they were also circumcised as a sign of maturity (which was very looked forward too by them) but this custom was also outlawed thanks to women’s rights’ activists.
Children today receive a formal education while still being taught to uphold and admire their culture. This rare occurrence in Africa today is what makes the Maasai culture so beautiful.
There is so much to enjoy in a trip through the game reserves of the Great Rift Valley. Here at Sonder Travels, we enable you to experience both the beauty of wildlife, and the rich cultural heritage of the Maasai. You get to visit their homes, have a taste of what life is like in their world and be part of their cultural shows and passionate dances.
To book a private tour to a Maasai homestead, contact us by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or calling us at 1-980-999-9301. You can also visit our website www.sondertravels.com to book a private tour.