A Synopsis of the Maasai People

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The Maasai people, famous for their reputation for producing fierce warriors, are indigenous to East Africa and now inhabit a region in northern Tanzania and southern Kenya. They are a semi-nomadic ethnic group recognized by their distinctive attire and elaborate accessories. Most visitors on safari in the Serengeti make a point to visit a local Maasai village to witness this unique tribe’s way of life.

Here is some info about this tribe if you are interested in their history and visiting their village:

Men

Despite rampant globalization and efforts by Tanzanian and Kenyan governments to assimilate them, the Maasai have managed to keep their culture mostly intact. The society is dominantly patriarchal, with the leaders and elders making most major decisions, levying punishments, and running the villages. From a young age, boys are sent out into the wild to fend for themselves. Traditionally, some tribes only allow a boy to become a man and an official warrior after they kill a lion. Another rite of passage into manhood is a painful circumcision in which the boys must remain totally silent in order to preserve their honor.

Women

Young girls are responsible for cooking, milking, and other household chores in order to prepare them for an early marriage. Female circumcision is also a widely practiced tradition, and in general women are seen as immature or unfit for marriage if they haven’t been circumcised. The Maasai are polygynous, which is seen as a logical solution to the high infant mortality rate, meaning that women marry into an entire age group. Men are allowed to have multiple wives, but whenever a man’s friend comes to visit his home, the women are in return allowed to visit his room at night.

Children

Because infant mortality is so high, children are not fully acknowledged or accepted in the community until they are three years old. Afterwards, they are initiated with a naming and head shaving ceremony.

Daily Life

Music and dance are a huge part of the culture and various ceremonies. People typically eat meat, maize, milk, ugali, and some fruits and vegetables. When they are not living in their huts made of mud, grass, sticks, and cow dung, the men are out herding their sheep, goats, and cattle. Using beads to make jewelry is a popular custom among women, and selling them to tourists is a profitable business.

Even though so many of a Maasai’s life stages are surrounded by ceremony, these pastoralists meet death with indifference. Corpses are left out for scavengers, and since not being eaten is a sign of disgrace, relatives of the deceased cover the body in fat and blood to ensure it’s disappearance.

The Maasai people are a simple herding tribe, yet their traditions are fascinating and elaborate. Take the time to learn about these indigenous people before their practices are wiped from the earth.

Have you visited the Massai village?

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About Author

My name is Mandi and I have a gypsy soul. I quickly realized the normal, sedentary life just wasn't for me, so I've made it my life's ambition to never stop exploring. This decision has led me to study, volunteer, intern, work, backpack and travel all over the world, including Rome, London, Costa Rica, India, Southeast Asia, Montana, and San Diego. Now I'm living and always writing in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Keep track of where I go next via thislimitlessworld.com and @1LimitlessWorld.

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