Maasai Warriors

Maasai Warriors

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Maasai are best known for their beautiful beadwork which plays an essential element in the ornamentation of the body. Beading patterns are determined by each age-set and identify grades. Young men, who often cover their bodies in ocher to enhance their appearance, may spend hours and days working on ornate hairstyles, which are ritually shaved as they pass into the next age-grade.


Maasai are the southernmost Nilotic speakers and are linguistically most directly related to the Turkana and Kalenjin who live near Lake Turkana in west central Kenya. According to Maasai oral history and the archaeological record, they also originated near Lake Turkana. Maasai are pastoralist and have resisted the urging of the Tanzanian and Kenyan governments to adopt a more sedentary lifestyle. They have demanded grazing rights to many of the national parks in both countries and routinely ignore international boundaries as they move their great cattle herds across the open savanna with the changing of the seasons. This resistance has led to a romanticizing of the Maasai way of life that paints them as living at peace with nature.


Cattle are central to Maasai economy. They are rarely killed, but instead are accumulated as a sign of wealth and traded or sold to settle debts. Their traditional grazing lands span from central Kenya into central Tanzania. Young men are responsible for tending to the herds and often live in small camps, moving frequently in the constant search for water and good grazing lands. Maasai are ruthless capitalists and due to past behavior have become notorious as cattle rustlers. At one time young Maasai warriors set off in groups with the express purpose of acquiring illegal cattle. Maasai often travel into towns and cities to purchase goods and supplies and to sell their cattle at regional markets. Maasai also sell their beautiful beadwork to the tourists with whom they share their grazing land.

Political Systems

Maasai community politics are embedded in age-grade systems which separate young men and prepubescent girls from the elder men and their wives and children. When a young woman reaches puberty she is usually married immediately to an older man. Until this time, however, she may live and have sex with the youthful warriors. Often women maintain close ties, both social and sexual, with their former boyfriends, even after they are married. In order for men to marry they must first acquire wealth, a process that takes time. Women, on the other hand, are married at the onset of puberty to prevent children being born out of wedlock. All children, whether legitimate are not, are recognized as the property of the woman's husband and his family.


The cow is slaughtered as an offering during important ceremonies marking completed passage through one age-grade and movement to the next. When moran (warriors) complete this cycle of life, they exhibit outward signs of sadness, crying over the loss of their youth and adventurous lifestyles. Laibon (Maasai diviners) are consulted whenever misfortune arises. They also serve as healers, dispensing their herbal remedies to treat physical ailment and ritual treatments to absolve social and moral transgressions. In recent years Maasai laibon have earned a reputation as the best healers in Tanzania. Even as western biomedicine gains ground, people also continually search out more traditional remedies. Maasai are often portrayed as people who have not forgotten the importance of the past, and as such their knowledge of traditional healing ways has earned them respect. Laibons are easily found peddling their knowledge and herbs in the urban centers of Tanzania and Kenya.

Origin Of The Maasai

According to the oral tradition of the Maasai, they originated from the northern part of Lake Turkana in the northwestern part of Kenya. It is believed that the Maasai migrated in the 15th century and arrived in what is now Kenya and Tanzania in the 17th and 18th centuries. During this period, several communities had settled in the larger part of what is now East Africa. The incoming Maasai had a fearsome reputation as cattle rustlers and warriors and forcibly displaced other communities in the region. Other ethnic groups, such as the southern cushites, were assimilated into the community of the Maasai. The Maasai and most of the other neighboring ethnic groups practice circumcision and have the custom of the age-set system.


The Maasai inhabit the African Great Lakes region and arrived via the South Sudan. [9] Most Nilotic speakers in the area, including the Maasai, the Turkana and the Kalenjin, are pastoralists, and are famous for their fearsome reputations as warriors and cattle-rustlers. [9] The Maasai and other groups in East Africa have adopted customs and practices from neighboring Cushitic-speaking groups, including the age set system of social organization, circumcision, and vocabulary terms. [10] [11]

Origin, migration and assimilation Edit

Many ethnic groups that had already formed settlements in the region were forcibly displaced by the incoming Maasai, [12] while other, mainly Southern Cushitic groups, were assimilated into Maasai society. The Nilotic ancestors of the Kalenjin likewise absorbed some early Cushitic populations. [13]

Settlement in East Africa Edit

The Maasai territory reached its largest size in the mid-19th century, and covered almost all of the Great Rift Valley and adjacent lands from Mount Marsabit in the north to Dodoma in the south. [14] At this time the Maasai, as well as the larger Nilotic group they were part of, raised cattle as far east as the Tanga coast in Tanganyika (now mainland Tanzania). Raiders used spears and shields, but were most feared for throwing clubs (orinka) which could be accurately thrown from up to 70 paces (approx. 100 metres). In 1852, there was a report of a concentration of 800 Maasai warriors on the move in what is now Kenya. In 1857, after having depopulated the "Wakuafi wilderness" in what is now southeastern Kenya, Maasai warriors threatened Mombasa on the Kenyan coast. [15] [16]

Because of this migration, the Maasai are the southernmost Nilotic speakers. The period of expansion was followed by the Maasai "Emutai" of 1883–1902. This period was marked by epidemics of contagious bovine pleuropneumonia, rinderpest (see 1890s African rinderpest epizootic), and smallpox. The estimate first put forward by a German lieutenant in what was then northwest Tanganyika, was that 90% of cattle and half of wild animals perished from rinderpest. German doctors in the same area claimed that "every second" African had a pock-marked face as the result of smallpox. This period coincided with drought. Rains failed completely in 1897 and 1898. [17]

The Austrian explorer Oscar Baumann travelled in Maasai lands between 1891 and 1893, and described the old Maasai settlement in the Ngorongoro Crater in the 1894 book Durch Massailand zur Nilquelle ("Through the lands of the Maasai to the source of the Nile"). By one estimate two-thirds of the Maasai died during this period. [18]

[19] [20] Maasai in Tanganyika (now mainland Tanzania) were displaced from the fertile lands between Mount Meru and Mount Kilimanjaro, and most of the fertile highlands near Ngorongoro in the 1940s. [21] [22] More land was taken to create wildlife reserves and national parks: Amboseli National Park, Nairobi National Park, Maasai Mara, Samburu National Reserve, Lake Nakuru National Park and Tsavo in Kenya and Lake Manyara, Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Tarangire [23] and Serengeti National Park in what is now Tanzania.

Maasai are pastoralist and have resisted the urging of the Tanzanian and Kenyan governments to adopt a more sedentary lifestyle. They have demanded grazing rights to many of the national parks in both countries.

The Maasai people stood against slavery and never condoned traffic of human beings and outsiders looking for people to enslave avoided the Maasai. [24]

Essentially there are twenty-two geographic sectors or sub tribes of the Maasai community, each one having its own customs, appearance, leadership and dialects. These subdivisions are known as 'nations' or 'iloshon' in the Maa language: the Keekonyokie, Damat, Purko, Wuasinkishu, Siria, Laitayiok, Loitai, Kisonko, Matapato, Dalalekutuk, Loodokolani, Kaputiei, Moitanik, Ilkirasha, Samburu, Lchamus, Laikipia, Loitokitoki, Larusa, Salei, Sirinket and Parakuyo. [25]

Recent advances in genetic analyses have helped shed some light on the ethnogenesis of the Maasai people. Genetic genealogy, a tool that uses the genes of modern populations to trace their ethnic and geographic origins, has also helped clarify the possible background of the modern Maasai. [26]

Autosomal DNA Edit

The Maasai's autosomal DNA has been examined in a comprehensive study by Tishkoff et al. (2009) on the genetic affiliations of various populations in Africa. According to the study's authors, the Maasai "have maintained their culture in the face of extensive genetic introgression". [27] Tishkoff et al. also indicate that: "Many Nilo-Saharan-speaking populations in East Africa, such as the Maasai, show multiple cluster assignments from the Nilo-Saharan [. ] and Cushitic [. ] AACs, in accord with linguistic evidence of repeated Nilotic assimilation of Cushites over the past 3000 years and with the high frequency of a shared East African–specific mutation associated with lactose tolerance." [27]

Y-DNA Edit

A Y chromosome study by Wood et al. (2005) tested various Sub-Saharan populations, including 26 Maasai males from Kenya, for paternal lineages. The authors observed haplogroup E1b1b-M35 (not M78) in 35% of the studied Maasai. [28] E1b1b-M35-M78 in 15%, their ancestor with the more northerly Cushitic males, who possess the haplogroup at high frequencies [29] lived more than 13 000 years ago. [30] The second most frequent paternal lineage among the Maasai was Haplogroup A3b2, which is commonly found in Nilotic populations, such as the Alur [28] [31] it was observed in 27% of Maasai males. The third most frequently observed paternal DNA marker in the Maasai was E1b1a1-M2 (E-P1), which is very common in the Sub-Saharan region it was found in 12% of the Maasai samples. Haplogroup B-M60 was also observed in 8% of the studied Maasai, [28] which is also found in 30% (16/53) of Southern Sudanese Nilotes. [31]

Mitochondrial DNA Edit

According to an mtDNA study by Castri et al. (2008), which tested Maasai individuals in Kenya, the maternal lineages found among the Maasai are quite diverse, but similar in overall frequency to that observed in other Nilo-Hamitic populations from the region, such as the Samburu. Most of the tested Maasai belonged to various macro-haplogroup L sub-clades, including L0, L2, L3, L4 and L5. Some maternal gene flow from North and Northeast Africa was also reported, particularly via the presence of mtDNA haplogroup M lineages in about 12.5% of the Maasai samples. [32]

[33] The monotheistic Maasai worship a single deity called Enkai or Engai. Engai has a dual nature: Engai Narok (Black God) is benevolent, and Engai Na-nyokie (Red God) is vengeful. [34] There are also two pillars or totems of Maasai society: Oodo Mongi, the Red Cow and Orok Kiteng, the Black Cow with a subdivision of five clans or family trees. [35] The Maasai also have a totemic animal, which is the lion however, the animal can be killed. The way the Maasai kill the lion differs from trophy hunting as it is used in the rite of passage ceremony. [36] The "Mountain of God", Ol Doinyo Lengai, is located in northernmost Tanzania and can be seen from Lake Natron in southernmost Kenya. The central human figure in the Maasai religious system is the laibon whose roles include shamanistic healing, divination and prophecy, and ensuring success in war or adequate rainfall. Today, they have a political role as well due to the elevation of leaders. Whatever power an individual laibon had was a function of personality rather than position. [37] Many Maasai have also adopted Christianity and Islam. [38] The Maasai are known for their intricate jewelry and for decades, have sold these items to tourists as a business.

[39] Educating Maasai women to use clinics and hospitals during pregnancy has enabled more infants to survive. The exception is found in extremely remote areas. [40] A corpse rejected by scavengers is seen as having something wrong with it, and liable to cause social disgrace therefore, it is not uncommon for bodies to be covered in fat and blood from a slaughtered ox. [41] [42]

Traditional Maasai lifestyle centres around their cattle, which constitute their primary source of food. The measure of a man's wealth is in terms of cattle and children. A herd of 50 cattle is respectable, and the more children the better. A man who has plenty of one but not the other is considered to be poor. [43] [44]

All of the Maasai's needs for food are met by their cattle. They eat the meat, drink the milk daily, and drink the blood on occasion. Bulls, goats, and lambs are slaughtered for meat on special occasions and for ceremonies. Though the Maasai's entire way of life has historically depended on their cattle, more recently with their cattle dwindling, the Maasai have grown dependent on food such as sorghum, rice, potatoes and cabbage (known to the Maasai as goat leaves). [45]

Body modification Edit

The piercing and stretching of earlobes is common among the Maasai as with other tribes, and both men and women wear metal hoops on their stretched earlobes. Various materials have been used to both pierce and stretch the lobes, including thorns for piercing, twigs, bundles of twigs, stones, the cross section of elephant tusks and empty film canisters. [46] Women wear various forms of beaded ornaments in both the ear lobe, and smaller piercings at the top of the ear. [47] Amongst Maasai males, circumcision is practiced as a ritual of transition from boyhood to manhood. Women are also circumcised (as described below in social organization).

This belief and practice is not unique to the Maasai. In rural Kenya a group of 95 children aged between six months and two years were examined in 1991/92. 87% were found to have undergone the removal of one or more deciduous canine tooth buds. In an older age group (3–7 years of age), 72% of the 111 children examined exhibited missing mandibular or maxillary deciduous canines. [48] [49]

Social organization Edit

Traditionally, the Maasai conduct elaborate rite of passage rituals which include surgical genital modification in order to initiate children into adulthood. The Maa word for circumcision, "emorata," is applied to this ritual for both males and females. [50] Anesthetic is not used in "emorata' coming of age ceremonies as enduring the pain is viewed as an integral component. This ritual is typically performed by the elders, who use a sharpened knife and makeshift cattle hide bandages for the procedure. [51]

Despite being viewed as equivalent within the Maasai cultural context, the genital modification performed on females is more extensive than that performed on males, with "Emuatare," being criticized by international medical and women's rights organizations as Type III Female Genital Mutilation. This includes the total removal of the clitoral glans, the prepuce (clitoral hood), the inner and outer labia with the wound being fused together to leave a single hole 2-3mm wide, a process called infibulation. For women, these modifications lead to the elimination of sexual pleasure, and chronic pain during sex, urination, and menstruation. Additionally chronic infections and various other negative physical and mental health consequences are commonplace. Female genital modifications of this type are illegal in both Kenya and Tanzania where the majority of the Maasai people live. The female rite of passage ritual has recently seen excision replaced in rare instances with a "cutting with words" ceremony involving singing and dancing in its place. However, despite changes to the law and education drives the practice remains deeply ingrained, highly valued, and near universally practiced by members of the culture. [52] [53]

Traditionally, the male ceremony refers to the excision of the prepuce (foreskin) not excising any of the other anatomically homologous body parts seen in the female procedure, i.e. the glans penis (commonly referred to as the head or tip) and scrotum are not removed. In the male ceremony the boy is expected to endure the operation in silence. Expressions of pain bring dishonor upon him albeit only temporarily. Importantly, any exclamations or unexpected movements on the part of the boy can cause the elder to make a mistake in the delicate and tedious process which can result in severe lifelong scarring, dysfunction, and pain. [54] [55] [56] [57]

Graduation from warrior to junior elder takes place at a large gathering known as Eunoto. The long hair of the former warriors is shaved off elders must wear their hair short. It is socially acceptable for Maasai men to have a relationship sometimes translated as a 'girlfriend' with women who have not undergone the various genital modifications, however, this relationship might be better described as a mistress or friend with benefits, and does not carry with it any social standing or expectations of material security for the female participant unlike marriage. Warriors who do not have sexual relations with women who have not undergone the "Emuatare" ceremony are specially honored at the Eunoto gathering. [58] [59] [60]

For young women, the "Emuatare" ceremony is typically followed with early arranged marriages to secure their social, material and familial position within the group. [61] The Maasai believe that female genital modification is necessary and Maasai men may reject any woman who has not undergone it as either not marriageable or worthy of a much-reduced bride price. Potentially the practice improves the certainty of paternity by eliminating sexual pleasure for the woman and thus the likelihood of extra-marital paternity resulting from extra-marital sex. Common reasons for the practice cited by women who encourage other women and family members to have the procedure includes social acceptance, religion, tradition, hygiene, preservation of virginity, marriageability and enhancement of male sexual pleasure. [62] In Eastern Africa, women who have not had their genitals modified, even those highly educated members of parliament like Linah Kilimo, can be accused of not being mature enough to be taken seriously. [63]

One common misconception about the Maasai is that each young man is supposed to kill a lion before he can be circumcised and enter adulthood. Lion hunting was an activity of the past, but it has been banned in East Africa – yet lions are still hunted when they maul Maasai livestock. [64] [65] Nevertheless, killing a lion gives one great value and celebrity status in the community.

Maasai Warrior – The Traditional Maasai Man

Traditionally, Maasai society is patriarchal, with male elders making all the significant decisions for the group. An age-set system also governs the hierarchy, particularly among men.

Throughout their boyhood, Maasai men are herd boys responsible for taking cattle out for grazing during the day.

At around age 15, these young men graduate to junior warrior status. As warriors (morans), they are responsible for protecting the herds from African predators and neighbouring tribes.

For the following 15 or so years, they live separately from the rest of the group, in areas called manyatta. Here, they undergo warrior training and ritualistic rites of passage.

Until recently, it was customary that, to claim warrior status, a young man must kill a lion with his Maasai spear. However, since the governments outlawed it as a ritual, this practice is no longer observed. Although a Maasai warrior will still kill a lion if it is a threat to his livestock.

At around age 30, junior morans become senior warriors and re-integrate with the rest of the tribe. During this stage of his life, a Maasai man acts as a guardian for the village. He can also get married to as many women as he likes, as the Maasai practice polygamy.

These periods of 15 years continue to promote Maasai men to higher statuses until they become elders at around age 60.

Blood & Leather: Saving the art of the Maasai war shield

Like in most African countries—from Egypt to Zambia—the dirt roads of Kenya are where you can travel fastest. If there are paved roads, they are so pocked with potholes and packed with pedestrians, bicycles, and livestock that locals have a saying: "You know how you tell a drunk driver in Africa? They are the only ones driving straight."

It was early October 2011, the dry season between the short and long rains in East Africa, and we were on our way to help host a law enforcement training workshop for the South Rift Game Scouts through our small charity, ConserVentures, whose mission is to promote exploration of the planet and conservation of its natural and cultural resources. The South Rift Game Scouts are an anti-poaching squad protecting the abundant wildlife of the Maasai nature conservancies in the southern Rift Valley they receive no funding or support from the Kenyan government. Since 2006 we have been working with the African Conservation Centre in Nairobi to develop support for community-based projects, especially those of the Maasai whose territories overlap the most wildlife-rich landscapes in East Africa.

The Maasai are among the most famous of Africa’s people, known for their distinctive red robes called shukas, their pastoral traditions, and their history as fierce warriors. For 300 years they ruled a broad swath of the Rift Valley region in what is now Ethiopia, Kenya, and Tanzania. As semi-nomadic pastoralists originating in the upper Nile, they moved their cattle in response to rainfall patterns, mimicking the migration routes of wild game and leaving little or no permanent impact on the land. When they needed more cattle, they raided other tribes.

In the early 1900s, British colonial officials exploited the nebulous and fractious nature of Maasai leadership to craft several treaties that drastically diminished existing Maasai territories and further curtailed the ability of tribal members to move their herds with the rains. The increasingly forced sedentariness of Maasai life became a challenge that has yet to be fully solved.

African Conservation Centre

Despite this loss of dominance and territory, the tribe clung to its warrior culture. While the British discouraged (with mixed success) raiding other tribes, for at least the first half of the 20th century a young moran, of the warrior class, was free to test his courage in their time-honored tradition—by facing down and killing a lion while armed with just three implements: a double-edged machete, a spear, and a buffalo-hide shield.

Maasai traditional buffalo hide shield with red ochre and black pigment (both mixed with buffalo blood), and a circular design that marked its bearer as a decorated veteran in war and as a lion hunter (British Museum collection, research specimen number AN00521410_001)

Maasai moran, or warrior, in a lion-mane headdress with traditional war shield and spear (British Museum collection, gelatin silver print, 1880-1960 (AN38872001)

The oblong shield, or o’longo, was usually three to four feet tall, and typically made from rigid Cape buffalo rawhide lashed with lighter, flat goathide strips to a bent wood perimeter frame. A heavier vertical center strut provided reinforcement and a grip. The front was decorated with an intricate pattern called sirata in various combinations of red, white, yellow, black, and blue-gray.

The shield had a secondary significance just as important as its primary use in defense against an enemy spear thrust or a lion’s charge. The designs on the face were highly codified and revealed many details about the bearer, from his region and clan to his prowess as a warrior. Furthermore, the shield was the one possession commonly handed on to a chosen successor—not, as one would expect, a son, but more often a young man in a succeeding age group. Thus a shield would be passed down strictly on merit rather than mere accident of birth. Even marks of personal bravery earned by the original owner would be painted over, so the new bearer might strive for his own.

The image of a Maasai moran crowned with an ostrich-feather or lion-mane headdress, spear in one hand, the other resting on a decorated shield, is probably what 90 percent of the world pictures when asked to conjure an image of an African warrior.

How could it be, then, that this shield—an implement so iconic its image is central on the Kenyan national flag—has not only disappeared from use, but is almost lost to memory among what is already nearly two generations of young Maasai men?

It happened so gradually that no alarm was raised until it was almost too late. No longer able to move herds of cattle where they pleased through country well-populated with lions, and no longer able to raid freely, the need to carry a bulky and heavy shield faded. In 1977 Kenya banned all hunting, making even the pursuit of cattle-killing lions around permanent villages a crime—and also cutting off access to wild buffalo hide. Faced with all this, and forced increasingly into a modern monetary system, many Maasai men unsentimentally sold their shields to tourists or collectors. Other shields dried and curled in the corners of huts until simply discarded. Any vague intentions to construct new shields were easily put aside for more pressing priorities, such as surviving increasingly more frequent and severe droughts.

By 2003, when the photojournalist Elizabeth Gilbert published her book Broken Spears, not a single one of her contemporary portraits of Maasai men included a shield. Even the series of images capturing a traditional lion hunt carried out by a group of 14 warriors in Tanzania in the early 1990s reveals not a single shield, despite the extremely hazardous nature of their endeavor. Like an endangered species lost to the wild and found only in zoo exhibits, it seemed the Maasai shield had disappeared from the world except for those kept under glass and fluorescent lighting in museums, or sold now and then through high-end tribal art dealers.

“ And there things might have remained—and ended—but for the foresight of Tonkei ole Rimpaine, a Maasai elder in Kenya’s South Rift Valley.

Rimpaine recognized what a tragedy it would be if knowledge of the Maasai shield faded away but for captions under grainy photographs and numbered inventory tags under exhibits, and if those who had made and painted and borne shields in battle or against charging lions died without passing on their stories. ”

Top 10 Facts about the Maasai People of Kenya

Maasai is one of the many tribes of Kenya. It may be worth mentioning that we have the Maasai in both Kenya and Northern Tanzania, but this article will focus on the Kenyan Maasai.

Until recently, the Maasai were the dominating native tribe in Kenya and to date, they have maintained a big part of their traditions and lifestyle, setting them apart from the other Kenyan tribes.

They are usually defined by their colorful clothes which varies by sex, age and place. Most done a piece of clothing called Shúkà in the Maa language – a combination of red, blue, and green checked and striped cloths. A big number also have bald heads, and sometimes a “rungu” (club) in their hands for the men.

Below, I give you some facts about the Kenyan Maasai that to this day make them a unique group:

They are fearless:

The Maasai have always been calm and courageous. They were formerly hunters, with their young men trained to hunt for food and to protect their families.
In fact, until recently, a Maasai boy would only be crowned a warrior if they killed a lion single-handedly using a spear.

Of course, this does not happen anymore as protection of our precious wildlife is paramount.

Yes, they drink cattle blood:

This has probably been one of the most intriguing fact about the Maasai people.
As strange as it may sound to some, the Maasai do in fact drink the raw blood of the cows and goats that they slaughter, which is their primary source of food. The act is considered honorable.

The drinking of blood used to take place on special occasions like when a woman gave birth or when a young man got circumcised, but nowadays the blood can be taken every time there is a slaughter.

Their livestock and children are extremely important:

The Maasai have for a long time been semi-nomadic and pastoral, living by herding cattle and goats. Having a large number of livestock is a sign of wealth for any Maasai man. It gives you status, respect, and honor among the community. In fact, the Maasai used to trade with their livestock to acquire whatever they wanted.
They also value their children. A young Maasai woman would give birth to as many children as her body allowed (they got married early and some still do), as it is also a sign of wealth for the husband.

The modern Maasai does however understand the concept of family planning and its importance, but those in the villages still maintain some of these behaviors.
It is also important to note that if you have a large number of cattle but no children, you will still be considered poor and vice versa.

The Maasai women build their family homes:

For a long time now, the Maasai women have been the ones building the “Inkajijik” – the Maasai hut which is normally circular or loaf shaped. These structures are impermanent in nature.

The traditional buildings are built using cow dung mixed with mud for the walls which have been structured using sticks, and then grass and more sticks for the roof. The floors of the huts are the bare grounds we walk on, which are swept at the end of the construction.

The men and women have separate defined roles:

For a long time, the Maasai men have been the ones hunting, taking care of their livestock, and protecting their homes and communities from enemies.

They fence their villages in a circular “Enkang” (fence) that protects their families and cattle at night from wild animals.

In turn, the women have been the ones cooking, raising children, and taking care of their men.

They love singing and dancing:

If you have a chance to visit some of Kenya’s major restaurants and game reserves including the Nairobi National Park and many other tourist destinations away from the city, you will most probably meet some Maasai men and women singing and dancing as they usher you in.

They will almost always have the “Olaranyani”, the song leader who sings a melody with the others joining in.

The men make sounds to mimic cattle sounds, while jumping in the air. The man that can jump higher than his peers is considered more masculine and therefore more attractive to young women. The women shake their necks and shoulders, moving the heavy jewellery they done back and forth.

They inherit wealth from their fathers and then share it with the big brother:

When a Maasai old man nears his death, he will usually call his sons and distribute his wealth, mainly cattle to each of them.

The sons will then give some of this wealth to their eldest brother, who they now see as the head of their family, and to avoid any curse, traditionally referred to as “engooki” that can come from them profiteering in their father’s death.

The Maasai do not bury their dead:

The modern Maasai tribesmen and women do. However, a big number of the Maasai especially those from the older generation group do not bury their dead.

They do not have your typical formal funeral service and believe that burial is harmful to the soil. They believe that death is the absolute end and anyone that has died has “completed their journey”.

And so they take the dead body, smear it with animal blood or fat from an animal, and then leave it out in the bushes for predators to eat. Some people call this “Predator Burial”.

They live near game reserves:

This is true, not just for the Maasai in Kenya, but for those in Tanzania as well.
As many practice nomadic pastoralism, it is not surprising that you will find them near game reserves and any open fields where their animals can get food.
The Maasai people in Kenya live in Kajiado and Narok counties.

We have the modern Maasai:

The modern Maasai is an educated, well to do individual who has been absorbed into today’s modern jobs in businesses and government roles as doctors, teachers, police officers, politicians, and the likes.

These individuals have stirred away from the nomadic lifestyles and traditions, even though still Maasai’ at heart.

This is especially true for the young generation in the country.

I’m sure I have not told you everything there is to know about the Maasai. One important fact that I must point out though is that the Maasai culture is quickly eroding, with most of their old practices being dropped. But they are still a fascinating group of people and there is always a lot you can learn from them.

Visit the Maasai Market in Nairobi and sample some of the Maasai culture.

Milly Shephx

Milly is a world traveler who loves to visit and explore new places. As a Nairobi native, she has much to say about Kenya and her home city. She also gives travel tips and recommendations about cities she loves - Prague being one of them.

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1 This essay deals only with those groups known as the pastoral Maasai in Kenya. There are other Maasai-speaking people, the Samburu and the Arusha Maasai, for instance, who are culturally distinct Alan , H. Jacobs , ‘The Pastoral Masai of Kenya, A Report of Anthropological Field Research’ ( 1963 ), I .Google Scholar The information on other East African societies comes mainly from my own researches on the Kikuyu and Kamba and such standard works as: Gulliver , P. H. , Social Control in an African Society: A Study of the Arusha Agricultural Masai of Northern Tanganyika ( Boston , 1963 )Google Scholar Gulliver , P. H. , The Family Herds, A Study of Two Pastoral Tribes in East Africa: The Jie and Turkana ( London , 1955 )Google Scholar Paul , Spencer , The Samburu: A Study of Gerontocracy in a Nomadic Tribe ( London , 1965 )Google Scholar Prins , A. H. J. , East African Age-Class Systems: Galla, Kipsigis, Kikuyu ( Djakarta , 1953 )Google Scholar Huntingford , G. W. B. , The Nandi of Kenya: Tribal Control in a Pastoral Society ( London , 1953 )Google Scholar Pamela , Gufliver and Gulliver , P. H. , The Central Nilo-Hamites ( London , 1953 )Google Scholar Huntingford , G. W. B. , The Southern Nilo-Hamites ( London , 1953 )Google Scholar and Huntingford , G. W. B. , The Galla of Ethiopia ( London , 1955 ).Google Scholar

2 Gulliver , P. H. , ‘The Conservative Commitment in Northern Tanzania: The Arusha and Masai,’ Tradition and Transition in East Africa: Studies of the Tribal Element in the Modern Era ( Berkeley , 1969 ), 238 .Google Scholar

The Masai Warrior – A Key Tradition of the Masai Tribe

You may not even know it, but you have likely seen photos of a Masai warrior. They are tall and lanky, usually dressed in bright red cloth and lots of beads. Few Western people would fail to recognize the jumping dance of the Masai warrior, where the men leap into the air to prove their strength.

The Masai are a semi-nomadic people who travel over great portions of their territory, herding the cattle that are the center of their economy.

Masai Age Sets

The society of the Masai people is defined by age groups or sets, especially among the men. The groups are young boys, junior warriors, senior warriors, junior elders and senior elders. Men don't move from one stage to the next at any one exact age.

They shift in groups, usually every 15 years or so. When the tribe decides to create a new warrior group, all the groups shift to their next role. So when boys are initiated into warriors, the previous generation of warriors become the new junior elders, and so on.

Boys get to be boys until they are somewhere between 12 and 25, when they go through the painful rituals of circumcision to become junior Masai warriors. Then they live apart from the village for several months, for training and further ceremonies.

They continue to live in their own camps for up to 10 years, at which point them become senior warriors. The mothers of the junior warriors will shave their sons heads, to mark their graduation to senior status. That's when they get to return to the main village and take a wife.

A warrior may take more than one wife, providing he has the wealth to support them. By wealth, I mean herds of cattle. However, the women of the tribe are also free to sleep with other men, providing they are within the same age set as their husband. If she gets pregnant, any child are claimed by her husband.

Role of the Masai Warrior

The role of both junior and senior warriors is the protection of their villages and their pasture lands. While the women of the tribe tend to most household matters, the fences surround the villages are built by the warriors. They are well-known as fierce fighters, and once made it a tradition to raid other tribes for their cattle

One of the traditional accomplishments of a warrior, often performed as part of one of the many coming-of-age ceremonies, is the killing of a lion with only a spear. As lions can easily kill and devour a human, you can imagine how dangerous this is. This was how a junior warrior proved his ultimate manhood and the right to become a senior warrior. But in modern times, this practice has become illegal due to the threatened status of the lion populations in the Kenya and Tanzania regions.

Each of the different tribes in Kenya have their own cultural values, and that is why the marriage traditions vary. To narrow it down even more, the Swahili region in Kenya have their own marriage rituals. Their marriage tradition is different from the traditional American wedding, but at the same time, there are still some similarities. For my field experience, I decided to spend a lot of time with two of my teammates from Kenya, Africa. They both have boyfriends, and I noticed that they both talk about marriage with their significant other quite a bit.&hellip

BIlly trusted his dogs enough to let them free and get on to a track of a coon. So Little Ann and Old dan ran out into the woods with Billy following them. When the dogs got a sent they worked together to track down the coon. Billy was always with them when they were hunting so that he could keep track of where they are. Billy made a promise to his dogs that if they treed the coon then Billy would do the rest.&hellip

Watch the video: 2017 - Lions vs Maasai Warriors Wildlife Animal (May 2022).


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