In East Africa, the Masai community has been one of the symbols of Kenya and Tanzania. They are the famous colorful people who have managed to hold on to their traditional way of life till present time.
Together with Samburu, the Masai are members of the Nilotic tribal group, both of them cattle herders.
They came from Sudan and occupied the central Kenya, best parts for their huge cattle herds. These herds have been their measure of wealth which usually accumulates to adverse economic consequences. The bigger the herd size, the richer the owner.
Known for their red color clothing, the Masai have a reputation of being fierce warriors, though this has been often exaggerated.
Warrior hood system still continues today accompanied by traditional regalia, unchanged by time. This system is for the young males before they marry. The importance of this is to prepare the young males to be responsible people both for themselves and for their community.
The big responsibility of building the homestead (Manyatta) falls in the hands of the women. They are in charge of taking care of the entire home which includes milking cows, searching for firewood and preparing food for the entire family. Men generally make the tribal decisions and care for the cattle.
The homestead of the Masai consists of several thatched houses and smeared with cow dung on the walls. These houses are built in a circular design one next to the other. The central part is left open for the cattle and goats belonging to that particular village.
Most of the rest of East African people have long forgotten their traditional ways of life. The western way of life slowly deleted the traditions of some of them. The white man brought formal education including modern medicine and this was the exchange price for the age-old customs. While most communities accepted these with open hands, the Masai are yet to open their hands. Despite more than 33 years of self rule, red dress together with traditional rituals are still performed.
For centuries they have continued to believe that all the cattle in the world belong to them and were given to them by Enkai, the God. A fact that has been a source of trouble with other neighboring communities by generating inter-tribal conflicts. The young Masai morans (warrior) job is to protect the cattle of their fathers and to capture those of other communities, because in their folklore God gave them all the cattle.
What has won them the great fame over the decades is their courage. It is true that when they surrounded a marauding lion, they crossed on it and speared it to death. This fearlessness has not been seen in any other community in East Africa. In addition to this braveness, the Masai have won time and again admiration from foreigners visiting the country due to their nomadic way of life, not attachments to possessions, and togetherness banded by the age sets of those who underwent circumcision ritual together. When a young man reached junior elder hood he had the freedom to have sex with the wives of other elders, his comrades, if he so wished.
Likewise, a Masai woman belonged to the entire age-set and sexual jealousy did not exist.
Ornamentation is very important and takes a big part of the Masai tribe. They have very beautiful bead-work that they make for themselves and also sell to tourists. Each age set makes its own pattern.
Tourism has taken its toll too on the way of life of the Masai and Samburu people. The construction of tourist hotels in the Masai land imposed further restrictions to their movement and introduced a different way of life for those working in these resorts. The villages near the lodges do make some income from selling their hand –made crafts that include spears, beadwork and customary dances.
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