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The Maasai People: Their History, Traditions & Culture

Image Credits: Africanews

Although the Maasai are just a small portion of the Kenyan population, they are by far the best. They are not only bold and beautiful but also proudly traditional. Many years into civilization, this Nilotic tribe deliberately chooses to never catch up with the world.

Their calm demeanor, courage, and long strides set them apart from the rest. These East Africa’s warrior tribes do not fear to stand proud in the Savannah, living amid wild animals.

How Can You Spot A Maasai?

Image Credits: Maasai Wilderness

If you ever notice a tall woman or man donning long bright red robes, leather sandals, with a shield and spear at hand, you are lucky to have set your eyes on a Maa.

Their fashion sense supports a fascinating hypothesis that they are descendants of a Roman legion who got lost from the Roman Empire. You’ll believe this if you see how they walk in their sandals and robes, holding their swords and shields.

History

Laibon Lenana of the Maasai 1890 | Image Credits Wikimedia Commons

The Maasai people came from South Sudan before coming to Kenya. The fierce natives were owners of vast fertile fields, which facilitated their cattle rearing activity, before the arrival of the British. Apart from animals, they were and still are hunters and warriors.

By the mid of 19th century, they settled on almost the whole of modern-day Kenya and part of Tanzania. Before long, calamity befell them when the foreign intruders began craving for their lands. They fought to keep their region by using their weapons against the foreigners with riffles.

Image Credits: Africa Flash McTours and Travel

Their lesser weapons and poor court advocacy in 1904 saw them write off a chunk of their best lands to the settlers.  Several years later, a group of the natives signed off their remaining best fields unawares.

The British moved them to the bare lands and built animal parks and wildlife shelters instead. And when the British forces started pushing the natives to renounce their traditions for a more urbane lifestyle, they refused!

Ages later, when other tribes in the region have adapted to the progressing world changes, the community has resisted the pressure to settle in permanent homes, and continue to distance themselves from urban centers.

Culture

1. Leadership

Image Credits: Maasai Wilderness

The roles of men and women are distinct within the tribe. The men make rules and preside over official matters while women exist to give birth. The elders- who are mostly the rich- solve conflicts cordially and ensure that the party at fault payback cattle to the other as resolution.

2. Economic Activity

Image Credits: Pinterest

Cattle are the core economic activity, as well as the center of their existence. For instance, their diet consists of raw meat, blood, and milk, and leather from animals makes shoes and shields.

The Maasais estimate their affluence by how many offspring and the number of cattle one has. For this reason, every household keeps cattle since they are their ‘bank accounts.’ Men practice polygamy to get many kids.

3. Initiation

Image Credits: Discover Walks

Their circumcision is the most significant aspect of their culture. The ability to bear excruciating agony without flinching is the standard path a boy takes to manhood.  For instance, boys get circumcised with traditional instruments without pain-relieving medications.

After healing, the boys graduate and become Morans (a warrior group).  In the past, after the boys were circumcised, they had to fight a lion for them to earn the right to be a member of the Moran group.  

Traditions

1. Dress Code

Image Credits: Reuters

They wrap long and colorful sheets around their bodies. The colors vary with age and gender. For instance, the female wears patterned, while the male wears red wraps. Young men, on the other hand, don black sheets after initiation.

2. Craft

Image Credits: Maasai Wilderness

Women make the famous Maasai crafty creations, which include beading. It is solely a task for the women, who, through craft, find a channel to express themselves. Surprisingly, it is the women who build the houses for the family while the men are in the fields.

3. Physique

Image Credits: Maasai Wilderness

The most notable body modification of the Maasais is their stretched earlobes. They use bones, stone, and wood to stretch the lobes out, and later done beaded earrings on the ear for beauty and respect.

Summary

Image Credits: Maasai Wilderness

Their colorful costumes and fascinating customs are out of this world, and a visit to their villages is worth it!

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