1.16.2013

the people of the masai mara

The Masai Mara in Kenya is known all over the world for its wildlife and stunning wilderness. Travellers to this breathtaking region are also struck by its native inhabitants, the semi-nomadic Maasai people. They have a proud, distinctive culture and are a key part of the landscape in this part of Africa, which they have called home for centuries.

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It’s estimated that approximately 1 million Maasai live in Kenya and Tanzania across an area of approximately 160,000 km sq. There are 16 different groups who identify as Maasai.

The Maasai are strongly interconnected with the animals around them; they are cattle and goat herders, eating and trading their produce and using dried-out cattle dung as building material.

Traditions and ceremonies are integral to life in Maasai culture – most famously, Maasai warrior-youth take part in an activity where they jump high into the air, a display of strength and agility – an exhilarating sight for outsiders to witness.

Unfortunately, Tanzanian and Kenyan governments both seem keen to encourage the Maasai to abandon their way of life and adopt modern ways of living, however their traditions are being defended by charity Oxfam, which argues that their ability to farm in deserts and scrublands will be vital knowledge in the face of climate change, and that their ways of life should be encouraged and learned from. The Maasai people are open to sharing their knowledge and skills, with many tribes and villages opening their doors to western visitors and safari travellers.

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The Maasai certainly have great knowledge of lions and other predators that threaten their cattle. They build fences made of acacia thorns to protect their homes and livestock, and lion-hunting has always been an important part of Maasai culture as they protect their homes and cattle. Lion-hunting is now banned, so a system of compensation is in place so that should a family be devastated by a loss of livestock, they no longer have to actively hunt lions to prevent them from approaching their cattle and goats.

Visiting the Masai Mara on Safari is a perfect opportunity to meet the locals and see some incredible scenery and wildlife into the bargain. It’s an eye-opening experience for any western visitor to see how these people have lived for generations.

Vivienne Egan writes for Safari Consultants who specialize in safaris to Kenya and the Masai Mara region. To find out more, click here.

3 comments :

  1. Such an awesome post! I lived in Uganda for four months, but never crossed borders to Kenya or Tanzania. They are absolutely on my travel bucket list!

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  2. I dream of the day that I get to meet them in person. AMAZING!

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  3. Nice post. However your statement that "Tanzanian and Kenyan governments both seem keen to encourage the Maasai to abandon their way of life and adopt modern ways of living" is not entirely true. At least not in the case of Kenya.

    True, many Maasai people have adopted modern ways, moreso those living in and near the cities. But, back in their rural settings (like around the Mara), they still maintain their traditional lives. In fact, government agencies like the Kenya Tourism Board (magicalkenya.com) market the colorful Masai culture as one of main highlights of Kenya. They wouldn't want the Masai to completely abandon their traditions in favour of modern ways.

    In my opinion, it is possible to blend the still useful Masai traditional ways with modern aspects, and I believe this is what the Kenyan government is encouraging. Otherwise, in an increasingly globalised and competitive world, the Masai would be very disadvantaged (and highly exploited by others) if they continue in purely traditional ways.

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Thank you for your lovely comment!

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