Meeting the Maasai, an indigenous pastoral semi-nomadic tribe whose ancestral area spans southern Kenya and northern Tanzania, is a highlight for many Micato Safari tourists.
Many of the camps and lodges we use for our safaris employ them as guides and staff members because many of their communities border or are located inside the boundaries of well-known game preserves, such as Maasai Mara, Ngorongoro, and Amboseli. Visitors on safaris frequently visit their communities or come across them on the savannah, with men herding cattle and women carrying water or firewood.
However, the Maasai have a rich and intriguing culture that precedes safari travel and continues to flourish now. Here are some particularly fascinating features of that civilization.
Cows represent riches to the Maasai.
The core of Maasai culture is the conviction that they are the keepers of all cattle in the world because God (known as Engai or Enkai in the Maa language of the tribe) created cattle specifically for them. Life for Maasai is focused on gathering and grazing vast herds of cows (and to a lesser extent, goats). Cows are not only the Maasai tribe’s main source of income (livestock is traded for other goods or money), but they also play a significant role in Maasai communal life.
Longtime users of a “green” method of land management are the Maasai.
Before game parks were formally established as a way of environmental conservation, the Maasai moved and grazed their herds around the Rift Valley for hundreds of years without endangering the region or its native species.
They mostly accomplished this by traveling over vast expanses of country on a seasonal basis, giving the soil plenty of time to recuperate before returning to graze it once more. The tribe’s restricted game hunting was non-distruptive to the greater ecology because their traditional diet also relies on the milk, blood, and meat of their animals.
Lion hunting was once a Maasai rite of passage but is no longer done.
Young Maasai males used to demonstrate their prowess as warriors (morani) by ritually killing lions, either by themselves or in groups, with nothing but their iron spears. (Usually, only male lions were hunted at this ala-mayo initiation ceremony because female lions were revered as the progenitors of life.) The ferocious bravery of the morani is still admired today, even though ritual lion hunting is now prohibited in East Africa and Maasai will only kill a lion if it threatens their herd.
Maasai clothing is really distinctive (and much copied).
The Maasai are renowned for their striking physical beauty, which includes their lithe, graceful bodies as well as their distinctive attire and body adornment.
The shuka, a woven, thick cotton blanket that is worn wrapped around the body and is typically red with a blue or black striped or checked pattern, is the most recognizable Maasai garment worn today. Although it isn’t historically traditional—the shuka was only introduced to replace animal-skin apparel in the 1960s, and it is now bought rather than created by tribespeople—almost all Maasai in East Africa wear it today.
In addition to Louis Vuitton, many high-end jewelry designers have drawn inspiration from Maasai jewelry, particularly the intricately beaded, vividly colored necklaces and bracelets worn by both men and women. The signature garment has been widely imitated by contemporary fashion designers.
In a jumping competition, Maasai are practically impossible to defeat.
The adamu, or jumping dance, is unquestionably the most well-known of the Maasai people’s many singing and dancing rituals. In this ritual, young Maasai men form a semicircle and chant rhythmically together. Then, one by one, they each step forward in front of the group and jump as high as they can several times. The adamu serves as a display of strength for young Maasai warriors hoping to win the attention of wives.
It is typically accompanied by loud whoops, which Maasai women watching from a distance carefully observe. Travelers on African safaris are frequently mesmerized by the performance, and some even try the jumping dance themselves. Though few can match the levels of proficiency attained by the warriors, who had been training since they were young.
Many Micato luxury African safari itineraries include visits to Maasai settlements and education about their fascinating culture. Contact a Micato Safari Specialist right away to learn more.