Here are some facts about the Maasai People: The Maasai people are possibly the most famous ethnic group in East Africa. They are popular because they are one of the few ethic groups that have retained their culture and traditions. The majority of the Maasai inhabit the areas between the Southern Kenya and Northern Tanzania. And these are the areas with popular national parks and reserves. (They are known to co-exist with wildlife). The Maasai Mara and Amboseli national park in Kenya. Serengeti and Ngorongoro in Tanzania. The Maasai are the most probable people you’ll meet while on your East African safari.
The Maasai originated from Southern Sudan and they migrated to their current areas during the 17th and 18th centuries. They speak the ‘maa’ language and they were the southernmost of the Nilotic group. Other Maa speakers include the Samburu and the Il Chamus.
They are mostly nomadic pastoralists who herd their cattle while moving from one place to another in search of pasture and water. Cows play an important role in the Maasai community as they are the measure of a man’s wealth and the primary income source; in fact there is a myth that God gave them all the cattle on earth.
They believe in their God –Engai or Enkai who manifests himself in two ways: 1.Enkai-Narok –the Black God who brings grass, blessings and prosperity. He appears in thunder and rain. 2.Enkai-na- Nyokie– the Red God who is vengeful and he brings famine and hunger.
Their society is strictly patriarchal with Maasai elders determining matters affecting the society. Both men and women have defined roles. Their traditional houses ‘manyatta’ are circular or loaf-shaped which are impermanent in nature designed for people on the move. They are built by women. Several houses have a fence –‘enkang’ that is made by men. This constitutes what is called a maasai village or boma.
The Maasai are known for their physical beauty including their ornamentation. Their clothing is determined by sex and age. The most iconic garment is their ‘Maasai Shuka’-a cotton blanket usually checked with red, blue, green and black that is worn around their body. They also wear beaded, brightly colored necklaces and bracelets. They also practice ear piercing and stretching their ear lobes which forms part of the Maasai beauty. Both men and women shave their heads to celebrate rites of passage such as circumcision and marriage, this represents fresh start. It is only the Maasai young men ( Morans) who are allowed to have long hair which they weave into thin long braids. Men are also known to carry a club called rungu.
Maasai Traditions and Ceremonies:
There are a number of traditions and ceremonies performed by young Maasai men (Morans). Warrior jumping dance is the most common as the morans jump into the air from a standing position to demonstrate strength. Traditionally the young morans would kill a lion as a sign of bravery. This practice has stopped. When the morans are ripe for marriage they have to undergo a special ceremony called ‘Eunoto’ where they evolve to senior warriors (ilmorijo) allowing them to marry, engage in the decision making in the community and prepare them to be future elders. The eunotu ceremony takes place every 20 years.
The traditional Maasai diet consists of milk, blood, meat and honey. The milk is drunk from a calabash and is sometimes mixed with fresh cattle blood. The blood is normally obtained by nicking the neck vein of a cow. Bulls are usually slaughtered on special occasions and ceremonies. They use the by-products of animals such as hides as bedding, while the cow dung is smeared on walls.
Disposing the dead:
Finally the Maasai people did not bury their dead. They believed that burial is harmful to the soil. They smeared the dead body with animal blood and fat and left it out in the forest for predators to eat (Predator burial).
Due to the strong influence of the modern life, it is becoming difficult to maintain and preserve these cultural practices but some are still practiced in the interior.
Contact Arrow Adventures to help organize cultural visits to the Maasai communities to discover more interesting facts about the Maasai people and learn more about their remarkable culture and way of life.