Maasai, Once Fierce Warriors
The Maasai of the Rift Valley are famously known to be fierce warriors and were deserving of that moniker. So powerful at war, the British never tried to pacify them in fear of their ferocious fighting skills. Myth has it that the Maasai are descendents of a lost Roman legion who patrolled the outer borders of the Roman Empire and crossed the Sahara into what is now Kenya and Tanzania. This is a legend that I wish were true. It would make for a great story.
The Maasai people did make their way down from the lower Nile in Sudan as legend has it before finding themselves in the valley and realizing that there were other tribes already occupying this region. The Mara were the unfortunate tribe that were evicted from the land that is now known as the Maasai Mara. These people were forced into the “African Great Lakes” area of Kenya and became fisherman after being driven out of their homes and reluctantly settled along the lakes. The Maasai conquered all of the tribes in their path and eventually had taken over most of the land in the Rift Valley and accumulated the cattle of the tribes they had conquered.
The warrior is of great importance as a source of pride in the Maasai culture. To be a Maasai is to be born into one of the world’s last great warrior cultures. From childhood, young boys learn the responsibilities of being a man and warrior. The role of a warrior is to provide security to their families including their animals. Boys learn about the warrior culture through rituals and ceremonies and are guided and mentored by their fathers and other elders. As a right of passage, a group of older teen boys are asked to live by themselves outside the village and the group is asked to kill a lion before they can return proving their manhood. This tradition is now discouraged due to the dwindling lion numbers.
Today, the Maasai cling to their old culture, minus the raiding of other tribes. A large number still live the old semi-nomadic lifestyle their ancestors lived. Cattle and livestock still dominate their lives. During my visit to the Maasai Mara, I was fortunate enough to visit a Maasai village. For the most part, they still live as their grandparents did. Homes are still small huts consisting of cow dung and mud with wood frames. The village is fenced off by branches and shrubs to keep the village safe, including the livestock. At night, all cows, goats, and sheep are placed in the center of the village, enclosed and safe from predators. On our visit, we were escorted by the chiefs son, who’s name escapes me, who stated that they move the village every nine years, demolishing all their homes. No longer because of their semi-nomadic beliefs but because of termites that eat through the wood frames. They move within walking distance to the school, sign of the times I guess. There are still villages further away from civilization that aren’t influenced so deeply by modern needs.
The men in our Maasai Mara Safari group were allowed to do the ceremonial dance reserved for the men of the village. Jumping is a large part of the dance and the height of your leap will indicate the number of cows you have to give to your brides parents. The higher the leap, the less cows need for the dowry. It was a great honor, even though this visit was to create revenue for the village. It was still a once in a life time event for someone who never believed I would ever have this opportunity. This village was no longer the once proud warrior clan and now some what dependent on the income generated from tourist wishing to visit their village. I was taken back when we were individually invited into their homes. Little did I know it was a ploy to sell their goods to us in an individual basis.
In retrospect, I would do it all over again. On a personal basis, it was a way for me to connect with a people I often seen on National Geographic as a child and never assumed that I would ever come in contact with the once-fierce warriors of the Maasai.
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