The Maasai part one

The Maasai part one

If you take a tour operator brochure dedicated to East Africa, you will always find a pic of a Maasai (or Masai) warrior, possibly with a cellphone in his hand. This means two things: the first one is that this tribe has struck the fantasy of the Western world and the second that it has been relegated at the voice ‘examples’ to benefit the tourists.

The Maasai

Tribal dance

A bit sad because these people are unique and they deserve to be understood better than this. They are much more than a group of proud warriors.

Let’s start from the beginning.

There is no written source that can report their history: what is certain is that they are of Nilotic origins, which is to say they migrated from the Nile valleys through Sudan and reached the territories of the Great Rift Valley of Kenya and Tanzania. More or less five hundred years ago.

The Kenyan and the Tanzanian Maasai are organized differently, even if similarly, and speak a common language, always of Nilotic origin, the Maa language.

They have a strong belief in their god, Ngai, and two supreme chiefs: the Laibon takes care of political and military matters, the Orkoivoi dedicates himself to religious issues.

The belief that Ngai created all the livestock on Earth only for them created a big mess in the territories in which they lived. They started to steal all the cattle from the neighbors and to be very much feared by other tribes. The land they controlled became huge. Some of the tribes they came in contact with reacted to this violence: a Chagga-Maasai war is still told by the Chaggas and the story includes episodes of women abductions beyond those of animals.

Getting in touch with the English during the Protectorate brought a dark period. Lands cut and put under English control and warriors confined in poor lands.

There have been many attempts to make the Maasai become sedentary, but their nature, their soul, are nomadic. Their lifestyle has remained unchanged for centuries. They still live in their villages, taking care of their livestock. It is usual to meet them on the edges of the roads while grazing cows and goats. They are part of the landscape. Calm, slow, in perpetual walking.

Nowadays they are concentrated in the North of the country, especially near Ngorongoro Area, but it is not difficult to find them also in Arusha or other towns. They often work as security in hotels, restaurants and lodges and are considered efficient and brave. These and those of them who attended university and work in important places are called ‘city Maasai’.

They traditionally live in villages in which every family has its own group of manyattas, the Maasai huts made of wood and covered with mud and cow dung.

Their diet is based on meat and blood, taken directly from the cow’s artery, even if now they integrate it with sugar, vegetables and other kinds of food.

The social structure is very complicted, at least for what concerns men. (to be continued…)