Meet the culture

The Maasai - Africa's most famous tribe

The Maasai live in Kraals arranged in a circular fashion. The fence around the kraal is made of acacia thorns, which prevent lions from attacking the cattle. It is a man's responsibility to fence the kraal. While women construct the houses. Traditionally, kraals are shared by an extended family. However, due to the new land management system in the Maasai region, it is not uncommon to see a kraal occupied by a single family. The Maasai people of East Africa live in southern Kenya and northern Tanzania along the Great Rift Valley on semi-arid and arid lands. The Maasai occupy a total land area of 160,000 square kilometers with a population of approximately one half million people. 

 

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The Maasai

People are one of the fewer tribes; among the 42 tribes of Kenya; that have retained their rich cultural heritage. They are popularly known for their colored ornaments made of beads.

 

This community lives in villages known as ‘Manyattas’ in the Maasai language. Manyattas are small circular huts made of tree branches, mud, grass and cow dung. A fence made of thorny bushes surrounds the Manyatta so as to protect protects the Maasai and their livestock from intruders and predators. Each Maasai Manyatta has about 10 to 20 huts know as "Inkajijik".

 

According to their tradition, women construct the Maasai huts, collect firewood, fetch water, milk the herds of cattle and cook for the family. Young boys look after the livestock while the warriors maintain security. Older men manage daily operations in the community.

 

Their nomadic way of life led to no attachments to possessions, and togetherness banded by the age sets of those who underwent circumcision ritual together. When a young man reaches junior adulthood he has the freedom to have sex with the wives of other elders, his comrades, if he so wishes. Likewise, a Masai woman belongs to the entire age-set and sexual jealousy does not exist.

 

Leadership: The community has its own way of organization whereby the elder men are at the top of the hierarchy, then elder women, morans and finally the girls. Passage from one age set from the moran to young adult is marked by slaughtering of a cow as an offering to the Gods. They have a ‘council of elders", which makes decisions as to which tribe will graze where and when, to avoid over-grazing and the destruction of the land.

Maasai culture

Dressing

Their dress is wonderfully colorful. Women commonly adorn themselves with great circular platelike beaded collars and headbands of many colors. Arms and ankles may be wound tightly with thick strands of copper coils. Both men and women often elongate their ear lobes by fashioning them with heavy earrings and beaded ornaments. Ocher, a red mineral ground to a fine powder, is frequently mixed with cow fat and artfully applied to the body.

 

Beliefs of the Maasai

For centuries they have continued to believe that all the cattle in the world belong to them and were given to them by Enkai, the God. This belief stems from the legend that in the beginning God had three sons and that to each he gave one gift. The first son received an arrow for hunting, the second received a hoe for cultivating, and the third son received a stick for herding cattle. This last son, it is said, became the father of the Masai nation. A fact that has been a source of trouble with other neighboring communities by generating inter-tribal conflicts. The young Masai morans (warrior) job is to protect the cattle of their fathers and to capture those of other communities, because in their folklore God gave them all the cattle.

In the Masai community, the size of a man's herd and the number of his children determine his status and importance. The very survival of the Masai depends upon the health and strength of their herds. Family members bond emotionally with their cattle. Cattle are often branded and marked with long curving lines and intricate patterns that are designed to enhance the animal's beauty. Songs are sung describing physical beauty of certain herd and affection for them. Large curved-horned bulls are specially prized, and a young calf is tenderly cared for and fussed over as though it were a newborn child.

 

History of the Masai

The Masai live in the vast open spaces of East Africa's Great Rift Valley. Located in the countries of Kenya and Tanzania, Their lifestyle reflects the harsh environment in which they live, with unpredictable rainfall and difficult agricultural conditions.The community has been one of the symbols of Kenya. They are the famous colorful people who have managed to hold on to their traditional way of life till present time. Together with Samburu, the Masai are members of the Nilotic tribal group, both of them cattle herders.

They came from Sudan and occupied the central Kenya, best parts for their huge cattle herds. These herds have been their measure of wealth which usually accumulates to adverse economic consequences. The bigger the herd size, the richer the owner is. They have been living side by side with wildlife and sharing pastures.

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