If you have travelled to Africa or are planning a vacation there, you must have ‘meeting the local Maasai tribe’ on a safari on your agenda. Inhabiting southern Kenya and parts of northern Tanzania, the tribe has managed to invite interest of travellers from around the world because of their unique appearance, language, culture and traditions as well as courtesy their insistence on living life the old and traditional way.
Origins and History of the Maasai Tribe
The tribe is believed to have originated in the northern Africa and migrated along the Nile Valley over centuries. Conquering all major tribes on their way, Maasai settled in the northern Kenya by 15th century and captured Tanzania and parts of the Rift Valley by the end of the 19th century. They have since survived on cattle rearing and have only recently started welcoming tourists into their homes and culture for an additional revenue source.
The Culture of the Maasai
The Maasai culture is one of the greatest warrior cultures in the world. The Maasai men are raised to be warriors right from their childhood and as they approach adulthood, a special ceremony called Eunoto is held, after which they are expected to start a family, build homes and protect their families as well as cattle from both animal and human predators. Girls were previously initiated into adulthood at the age of 14, after an official circumcision ceremony called Emorata, which has now been banned by the law. The grown up women are expected to settle into the role of homemakers and build houses, make beadwork, and cook and clean their homes.
Masaai Clothing and Jewellery
The traditional red garment that the Maasai people are often spotted wearing is called ‘shuka’. It is a basic piece of fabric that can be worn in many different ways, depending upon the personal preference of the wearer. Originally, the cloth was made out of animal skin, which got replaced by cotton over a period of many years. Jewellery of beads and metal wire occupies a predominant position in Maasai life. While men wear wrist or ankle bracelets, belts as well as necklaces on a daily basis, women adorn all of this in addition to bead-decorated collars. Ear piercing and the stretching of earlobes is a standard beauty practise among the Maasai. Shaving of head is commonplace and a significant part of many rituals and ceremonies.
Masaai and Their Relationship to Cattle
Cattle occupy a place of utmost importance in the Maasai way of life. In fact, it’s a popular Maasai belief that God created cattle only for the Maasai tribe and that they are entrusted with the responsibility to protect them. This almost reverent position that the cattle occupy in the Maasai life promotes their nomadic way of life as they follow patterns of rainfall over vast land in search for food and water for their cattle. The riches of a person in the Maasai tribe are also measured by the number of cattle that they own.
The language of the Maasai people is called Maa. It is a Nilotic ethnic language that traces its origin in the Nile region of North Africa. In fact, the tribe borrows its name from the language Maa, which is also spoken by the Samburu people of central Kenya.