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Sunday, October 24, 2010

Becoming Maasai

Chris, our car’s previous owner, told us that we would love the Maasai. We do, but we didn’t know we actually be adopted by them. Glenn and I now have a Maasai mother, Momma Maria, a chief as a father (although I don’t think he is aware of this detail), ten siblings and an entire village of friends and extended family.

According to Wikipedia, and largely confirmed by our new friends: Nelson, Francis, Justice and Dickson, the Maasai are one of Africa’s most vibrant tribal groups. Spread between southern Kenya and northern Tanzania, population estimates are hard to calculate due to their semi-nomadic lifestyle, but census reports upwards of 900,000 individuals. Maasai men often take multiple wives who bear multiple children, so if there aren’t yet 900,000 there will be soon.

The Maasai have a fascinating history. Their societies are structured according to coming of age rituals; boys are tested for courage, strength and bravery before being initiated as a junior warriors, then senior warriors and finally, after marriage, as elders. Early European explorers and slave traders were afraid of the Maasai, and like the Zulu of Southern Africa, left the Maasai people alone, unaltered by a hideous slave trade that tore apart many of Africa’s indigenous tribes. Much of the old way of life is still preserved; the rituals and customs are largely intact. The Maasai’s distinct dress, warm respectful nature and vibrant ornamentation are just a few reasons they are so widely recognized around the world. 

Our first encounter with the Maasai was in a bustling market in Narok Kenya. The crowd was shoulder to shoulder and I just had to get out and join the fray. With Glenn clutching tightly to my hand we bobbed and weaved our way through the crowd of men in plaid shugas and women draped in primary colored sarongs, and beautifully adorned in strand upon strand of brightly colored glass beads . We bought some onions and potatoes which led to sarongs and beaded bracelets, but I just couldn’t resist the elaborate beadwork expertly woven into beautiful geometric patterns.

That night we camped with the Maasai in a community run campground just outside the entrance gate of Maasai Mara National Park. The next night we were sleeping in the village with our new friends. I asked Nelson, a young leader and mentor in his community, what is it about these young boys that make them so special? They are so very polite. He told me that the Maasai have a very strong reverence for life and respect of one’s elders. Yes, that is exactly what we felt: revered. It was lovely.

We were welcomed into their village, into their homes and into their daily world. Maria, the chief’s first wife went as far as adopting us (after a valiant effort in selling us some gorgeous handicrafts). We danced, sang and jumped with the Maasai. We chewed disgustingly bitter twigs that were supposed to make us invincible (but after 15 or 20 twigs GP and I gave up: too gross and no superhuman epiphanies) and chatted around the campfire. We felt Maasai. Does that count?

All our love,

For more photos of the Maasai go to: 

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