African Culture Today : Gain Insight Into The Maasai Tribe Of Kenya : There are almost 50 indigenous tribes in Kenya. The cultural diversity of Kenya, which is descended from Bantu, Nilotic, and Afro-Asian peoples, contributes to the allure of the country. The most numerous Bantu tribe in Kenya is the Kikuyu, and the Kalenjin tribe is known for producing elite athletes. Swahili, Kenya’s official language, is derived from Afro-Asian groups, but it is the Nilotic tribes of Samburu and Turkana, and of course the Maasai, that are most closely associated with East African safaris.
THE MAASAI TRIBE OF KENYA
The Maasai are people from East Africa who are ‘Maa’ language speakers. Their red robes are tall and striking, standing out against the blond savannah grass of Africa. Images of the Maasai tribe are recognizable whether they are standing, dancing, herding cattle, or traversing an animal-filled landscape. The Maasai people were traditionally nomadic pastoralists, but history has compelled them to form an unlikely alliance with the African wilderness, tourism, and conservation.
WHO ARE THE MAASAI PEOPLE?
The Maasai are individuals who are ‘Maa’ language speakers. The Maasai were once the most powerful tribe in the area, spanning northern, central, and southern Kenya as well as northern Tanzania. They brought their cattle and military prowess with them when they migrated to Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries from the Nilo-Sahara region. They expanded to their peak around the 19th century, when agrarian settlements and the arrival of Europeans ushered in a period of decline and quickly established dominance in the region.
The Maasai people currently consist of 22 sub-tribes, each with its own dialect, appearance, and customs. These ‘iloshon’ or ‘nations’ are the Dalalekutuk, Keekonyokie, Ilchamus, Ildamat, Ilkaputiei, Ilkirasha, Ilkisonko, Ilooldokilani, Laikipiak, Laitayiok, Larusa, Loitai, Loitokitoki, Matapato, Moitanik, Parakuyo, Purko, Salei, Samburu etc.
The Maasai tribe lived in large areas of land because they were nomads, traveling from one location to another in search of grazing land for their cattle. The Maasai were gradually forced out of their best grazing land and into more arid regions as East Africa’s population increased. Much of their land was taken away and converted into protected wildlife areas in the middle to late 20th century. The Maasai people, who needed grazing for their cattle because they lived near these wildlife sanctuaries and national parks, all came into conflict. Unexpectedly, the Maasai have taken on the role of guardians of the natural world, thanks to the enormous increase in safari tourism and the creation of conservancies. The Maasai clan is now a crucial component of Kenya’s economy and leads the charge in efforts to protect the country’s wildlife.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE MAASAI TRIBE
The Maasai people moved south in quest of better grazing for their cattle after leaving their ancestral home in what is now Sudan. They traveled past Lake Turkana and through Kenya’s highlands after arriving in East Africa around 1700 before settling in the wide savannahs of southern Kenya and northern Tanzania.
The Maasai, semi-nomadic pastoralists, hold that after creating cattle using a woven rope, god first made the Maasai. The remainder of humanity was then developed after this. Therefore, not owning cattle is equivalent to being genuinely poor for the Maasai tribe. This served as both their advantage and their weakness. The Maasai tribe prospered in times of abundant land because their knowledge of animal husbandry guaranteed their prosperity. The Maasai, however, were in decline by the 19th century as a result of the conflict between pastoralists and agriculturists. The Maasai people lost their dominance as settlements developed and organized agrarian communities gained strength.
The Maasai were dealt three blows in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The Maasai herds were devastated by cattle-related diseases in 1897 and 1898, which killed up to 90% of their cattle. Finally, a smallpox epidemic broke out. Up to two-thirds of the Maasai people perished during this time.
By escaping to less desirable and more arid pastures, the Maasai tribe did manage to survive the colonial period. The Maasai have lost territory at Ngorongoro, Lake Nakuru, Amboseli, Mt. Meru, and Kilimanjaro, Amboseli, Nairobi National Park, Samburu, Masai Mara, Tsavo, Lake Manyara, and the Serengeti starting around 1940. The Maasai were still under duress after Kenya gained independence from Britain in 1963. The newly autonomous governments of Kenya and Tanzania persisted in their efforts to “modernize” and make the Maasai tribe sedentary.
The Maasai are still a proud people with strong African customs and deep cultural roots today. Their understanding of the land and expertise in animal husbandry are being revived as they become an essential component of East African conservation strategies.
WHERE CAN YOU MEET THE MAASAI PEOPLE?
The greater Amboseli conservation area served as the forerunner of the conservancy model in the 1990s. The model aims to collaborate with nearby Maasai communities for the good of all parties involved. For a fee, communities lease land to tourism businesses and environmental organizations. Additionally, the communities receive assistance with vital services like access to clean water, education, and healthcare. The Maasai tribe and the conservation organizations collaborate in a mixed-model effort to develop high-value safari tourism that directly benefits the neighborhood by reducing animal conflict, generating employment, and enhancing wildlife conservation.
For a small fee of about $220, many safaris to East Africa’s Masai Mara Conservancies offer the option of visiting a Maasai village. It must be emphasized that these are the homes of the Maasai people who work as rangers, guides, and lodge staff rather than ‘cultural’ villages built for the benefit of tourists. A great way to learn more about these famous Kenyans and their African culture is to visit a Maasai village.
IS IT SAFE TO MEET THE MAASAI TRIBE?
Yes. The Maasai are well known for being hospitable and friendly. The deep connection they have with the land has been preserved thanks to Kenyan safaris, which have provided them with a lifeline in a changing world. Safaris in Kenya are risk-free, and the majority of Maasai people will welcome you into their villages to learn about their fascinating African culture and customs.
WHY HAS THE MAASAI TRIBE BECOME SO ICONIC?
ü Firstly, their vivid red and blue robes stand out against the African plains, making color combinations that are both memorable and recognizable.
ü Second, it’s macabre and fascinating that they consume their cows’ blood.
ü Thirdly, the Maasai have gained more visibility as a result of being largely displaced by the establishment of national parks and protected areas. The proximity to the parks and the cattle grazing are the primary causes of this increased visibility, followed by their participation in tourism and conservation.
ü Last but not least, the Maasai are renowned for their steadfast refusal to modernize in the face of outside pressure and for having persisted for decades in maintaining their cultural heritage and traditions.