Sunday, March 20, 2011

Maasai Village

On our way through northern Tanzania, my dad and I stopped at a local Maasai Village. Maasai are the most well-known ethnic group in Tanzania. Despite progress and changes made throughout the country, these people continue to live their traditional semi-nomadic lifestyle. They move their villages about every four years to follow water and fresh grazing pastures for their livestock.

Cows are the greatest pride of the Maasai people. In fact, they believe that only Maasai men can take care of cows the way they truly deserve to be handled. In the past, Maasai have been known to steal cows from other tribes because they believe God intended for all cows to belong to them. They are just taking back white rightfully belongs to them. Other tribes would try to steal their cows back, but Maasai warriors are known to be the strongest, so the weaker tribes would usually just give in.

The number of cows that a Maasai man owns is a status symbol. A woman would never marry a man who doesn't have plenty of cows!

Speaking of marriage, a Maasai man can marry as many wives as he wants. Each wife gets her own hut inside the village. This particular village had two leading males, with a combined total of 26 wives and about 100 children.

Once my dad heard all of this, he decided that he wanted to be a Maasai chief, and tried to sell me to some of the young warriors for 40 cows! They were thrilled about the idea. I wasn't as excited about the prospect of being traded for livestock, but it was all in good fun. Fortunately, none of the individuals had acquired 40 cows yet. Thanks Dad...

Maasai can be easily recognized by their clothing. The warriors can always be seen wearing layers of red fabrics draped around their bodies, often covering red and blue patterned fabrics. They generally carry a spear, stick or large dagger, even just walking through town. They create shoes from used motorcycle tires that they come across. The men and women all wear bright beaded jewelry and many have their earlobes stretched out several inches for large earrings.

At the time of our arrival, all men and women in the village came out to welcome us with a traditional dance.

Then they performed a second dance. The men were challenging each other to see who could jump the highest, while the women cheered them on, chanting and bouncing their shoulders. It was fun to participate. They showed me the proper movements and taught me some of the words and sounds.

My dad and I were led around the village by a 19 year old Maasai man. He answered every question I had about the distinct culture, lifestyle practices, and ceremonious coming-of-age traditions.

In the past, a man was expected to kill a fully grown male lion before he could have his first wife. This proved his strength and ability to be a protector. This cannot be a part of the lifestyle anymore because of the endangered lion populations. Although they live among African wildlife, they do not kill any of the wild animals, such as giraffes, wildebeest, elephant, or hippo.

Their diet consists of three main foods—meat, milk, and blood. Yes, blood. They have perfected the art of drinking cow blood so the cow can jump right up and continue grazing after they have had their fill. The livestock they raise generally consists of cows, goats, and lambs. They would never eat chicken, eggs or any other bird.

Walking through their village was so interesting. Everything was so simple and like nothing I had ever seen before. Their huts are made from branches and mud, then covered in cow dung. They must be durable, but also not too complex because they are only temporary. Each woman must build her own hut, with help from her children or other females in the community. It takes about 3 weeks to build one hut, and it will last about 4-5 years.

Most of the Maasai men continue this semi-nomadic lifestyle as they grow up. They all aspire to have more cows than they can count. The women fall into the daily routine of cooking, raising the children, creating jewelry, and tending to the village needs. Some of the Maasai choose to move out of the villages and into bigger cities in order to get an education or pursue paying jobs. Their community will always welcome them home if they continue to practice Maasai traditions.

We got to see a small school for all the village children from age 3 to 5. They were so adorable as they counted and said the alphabet in unison.

They all wanted to run over and give me a high five. During these years, it seems as though they learn the basics of English and Swahili numbers and letters. It is difficult to teach them math or many other subjects because there are no school supplies in the village. About 25 children were crowded onto a couple benches, staring at a single small blackboard.

The people of this village were overly friendly and welcoming. Even with all I had read about the Maasai, hearing stories in their own words gave new me new perspective on this lifestyle.

Until next time, Oleseri (Goodbye in Maasai language)


  1. 2 disturbing thoughts - drinking cow blood and your father trying to trade you!! Other than that very interesting story.

  2. um, why aren't there any pictures of the cows? you're slacking Klecker, you're slacking