S: The Maasai roam the savannah
Apr 28, 2004
We first saw Maasai men on the island of Zanzibar. They're easy to spot due to their bright red draped blankets, sandals, and colorful jewelry. They are also often very tall and slender. In Zanzibar, they were selling jewelry at roadside stands.
The Maasai are a nomadic people who live thoughout Tanzania and Kenya. They are herders and roam with their herds of cows, goats and donkeys. The land they roam on is owned by the government and has no fences which permits the Maasai to go where they please. We saw them frequently alongside roads with large herds of healthy looking cows and goats.
As part of our safari in the Serengeti, our guide took us to a Maasai village. The village was circular in layout and comprised of maybe 10-15 mud-based huts. The entire village was surrounded with a "wall" of sticks forced into the ground and brush which serves to keep the lions, leopards, elephants, etc from entering the village.
Unfortunately, in addition to herding, the Maasai seem to make their living from tourists and can be quite pushy in selling their jewelry and other crafts. The village tour was a bit tainted by the constant salesmanship that went on while the men of the village performed an a cappella chant/song and danced. The dance involved each man, one at a time, stepping out into the circle and jumping vertically into the air. I took a go at it and rediscovered why I wasn't recruited to play hoops at Stanford. I didn't jump any higher, even when holding my official Maasai herding cane and backed up with a Maasai song soundtrack.
The village also included a schoolhouse where it appeared they had a full class of primary age kids learning math.
Our tour guide was a Maasai man of maybe 20 years who learned English from a Roman Catholic priest. The man said the Maasai had many wives, then told us he himself was Roman Catholic. We asked how he could have multiple wives and be Catholic and he avoided the question with some vague answer.
Also of note about the Maasai are their pierced ears, often with large hoops in their lobes. It makes for a striking appearance combined with all the multicolor beads.
Outside the village, we passed a group of adolescent Maasai men traveling together. They wore all black and had a white spiderweb pattern painted on their faces. They looked like they were ready to head to a Halloween party. This costume is part of a Maasai man's coming of age where he leaves the village for 6 months and dresses like this while he learns the ways of a man. I don't pretend to understand all the significance of this custom but it certainly makes for a dramatic roadside encounter.
From Maasai country,