The Mighty Maasai

The Mighty Maasai

Jan 17, 2014|Where we travel| by administrator

Living along the Great Rift Valley bordering Kenya and Tanzania, the Maasai people have maintained their culture despite being surrounded by the rapidly growing modern world around them.

The semi-nomadic people live near widely visited game parks, and as a result have become popular among tourists wishing to learn and even experience first-hand many of the Maasai age-old customs.

After migrating south from the lower Nile valley in Northwest Kenya around the 15th century, the Maasai settled in a large area stretching from northern Kenya to what is now central Tanzania over the next few centuries.  This caused many ethnic groups to assimilate in Maasai society, while others were forcibly relocated. The new mixture of Nilotic people with mainly a Cushitic group created other populations, like the Kalenjin and Samburu. There are essentially twelve geographical sectors of the Maasai tribe, varying in customs, appearance, and dialects.

Photo by Eric LindbergPhoto by Eric Lindberg

Photo by Pelin Karaca

Photo by Pelin Karaca

 Photo by Eric Lindberg
Photo by Eric Lindberg 
 
Visitors are welcome to learn how a Maasai warrior survives in the Serengeti by adapting
to his natural surroundings. The warriors are taught to track the movements of the wild
animals by studying their footprints and droppings. To protect themselves from the
animals, they use a variety of weapons such as fighting sticks, spears, and bows and arrows.
Warriors also know how to create a fire through friction using a stick and a piece of wood, a
skill visitors can attempt.
 
Photo by Debbie Sturdivant Jordan
Photo by Debbie Sturdivant Jordan                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            
 
Among the most famous ritual dances photographed is the adumu, or the "jumping dance", performed
during the coming of age ceremony for warriors called eunoto . Typically, one or two warriors step forth
and are circled by other warrior men. They then jump with a straight posture, never letting their heels
touch the ground. Warriors in the group may change the pitch of their voices depending on how high the men jump. 
 
Photo by Debbie Sturdivant Jordan
Photo by Debbie Sturdivant Jordan
 
Photo by Pelin Karaca
Photo by Pelin Karaca
 
Maasai clothing, called the Matavuvale, varies with gender, age, and location. For instance, young men usually wear black during the months following their circumcision. While the most common color is red, other colors and patterns are often worn by all. Shúka is the name of the sheets that Maasai people wrap around their body: one over each shoulder, and another over those two. Both men and women don elaborate body ornaments identifying their position in society. The ornaments, made by the women, are usually composed of dense and opaque glass beads.
Hair length is also a symbol for one's identity. Only warriors can have long hair, which they keep in thin braids. Shaving one's head is a ritual representing the beginning of a new stage in life. For example, when warriors go through eunoto and become elders, their long locks are shaved off. Women are also accustomed to shaving their head just before they get married and begin a new life with their partner.
To learn more about the Maasai people and how you can visit their community while traveling through Kenya, please visit the Holbrook Travel website.

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