The Maasai

The Maasai are nomadic people that originally migrated to Kenya and Tanzania during the fifteenth century from the Nile region of Northern Africa. In many areas the Maasai still live very traditional and have stayed outside the mainstream development in Kenya. And they are often seen as a symbol of “tribal” Kenya with their traditional red clothing and beaded ornaments.

Photo by Kjartan Haugen

The Maasai live by their livestock: cows, sheep and goats, which is the single most important thing to the Maasai, that believes that God gave them all the cattle…
The story goes that Enkai (God) let cattle descend from the sky along a bark rope (or leather strap or fire stick depending on who you ask), down to the Maasai people. The Dorobos, a group of hunters and gatherers closely related to Maasai, did not receive any cattle, and therefore proceeded to cut the rope, producing a separation between heaven and earth, and stopping the flow of livestock from Enkai. From that belief, it follows that there is a direct link between God and cattle and that all cattle in the world belong to the Maasai.

The Maasai family lives in settlements fenced from the wildlife. Inside the fence, they build their small flat-roofed houses from sticks and cow dung. Life in the village is very much centralized around the livestock and taking the cows, sheep and goats out for grazing. The women are the ones fetching water, firewood, cooking, taking care of the children and building/maintaining their houses.

The Maasai community is strongly based on age groups. Each stage of life is decided by the promotion of successive generations to new positions of responsibility. The chief autocrat of the entire community is the ‘Laibon’, who decides when the time is right for the tribe’s age group rituals where each generation is elevated to a new level of seniority. Each level is characterized by a name, the youngest and fittest of a generation and the most elite are the warriors, known as Ilmorran.


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