The Maasai are an ancient ethnic group of semi-nomadic peoples settled in Kenya and northern Tanzania in Africa. Due to their distinct culture, practices, and dress and their presence near East Africa’s national game parks, the Maasai are among the leading African ethnic groups and are recognized internationally for their ties to national parks and reserves. Originally the Maasai were a Nilo-Saharan people based around the region of what is Sudan today. They then migrated to the south, along with other tribes like the Tutsi, in search of better pasture and agricultural land, a quest that eventually took them to Central Eastern Africa about 1750 CE
They traveled through Kenya’s highlands and past Lake Turkana, eventually settling on the grassy savannah plains of what is now southern Kenya and northern Tanzania. The Maasai’s Nilotic-Kushite roots are very distinct in their physical features and the numerous instances of words lent from Kushite or the Western Nilotic are present in Languages in the Maasai or maa language.
The Maasai continued to expand their territory, which is often called Maasailand and is situated roughly in the region between east Lake Victoria and
west Mount Kilimanjaro. They expanded by sending out younger generations of families to settle new pastures with a certain amount of livestock from the homegroup.
This cycle continued through the 17th and 18th centuries CE, as the
tribe was looking for ’empty lands’ where the current population was small.
As East Africa began to fill up with competing tribes and populations grew in density over time, so the Maasai were forced to fight for their right to raise animals in a specific region. This was especially so in the 19th century CE.
Tradition & Culture
In their culture, Maasai status was determined and calculated by how many cattle a male-owned.Livestock was a wealth measure, and animals were usually offered as part of a bride price, but often the Maasai even lent their cattle to kinsmen in trouble.
In a way, the cattle kept communities together by forming a shared and mutually beneficial ownership bond.
Specific members of kin groups are given the task to herd animals but the whole
belonged to the broader social unit regardless of their actual geographical spread.
The emphasis on cattle and the large number needed to support a family had unfortunate consequences for Maasai society’s poorer members.
In times of famine when milk was in short supply or livestock even died, those with only a small
The herd was forced to farm or search for themselves, which was considered the greatest failure as we have seen above.
All Maasai people were from a nation, clan and district community.
Representatives of these groups established councils of male elders-seniority in age. This was a significant criterion for the Maasai elite-who met regularly to discuss and determine matters relevant to the Maasai as a whole to define the rights and reciprocal obligations of each of these three levels of society. Usually, elite communities ended up owning the best pasturing land and critical watering areas.
Young people were welcomed into adulthood through ceremonies of initiation that included circumcision (for both sexes).
The Maasai may have been expert pastoralists, but as warriors, they were also revered and feared.
In fact, warfare was often necessary because the Maasai needed their animals to graze large swaths of land, a fact which often brought them into conflict with neighboring peoples.
Around 1500 and 1800 CE, East African cultures were still taking shape quite much with quite a large number of very different groups.
Like the Maasai, the Miji-Kenda wanted to extend their territory, so that the two eventually clashed.
Another rival group was the Padhola, particularly in the Tororo the region and a third was the various East African hunter peoples.
Land and resource demand only increased in periods of severe conditions, such as droughts.
Traditionally, Maasai relies on beef, milk, and blood for protein and caloric needs.
There are special times when people drink alcohol. It is granted to a person who is circumcised (o / esipolioi), a woman who gave birth (entomononi), and the sick (oltamueyiai).
Often, on a daily basis, intoxicated parents, ilamerak, use blood to relieve vomiting and hangovers.
Blood is very rich in protein and essential for the immune system. Nevertheless, its use in the conventional diet is decreasing due to a reduction in the number of livestock.
Government policies aimed at protecting their national parks and reserves, excluding the culturally rich Maasai community, have made it more impossible for the traditional Maasai way of life to be preserved and conserved for future generations to experience and know. More space for an ever-growing Kenyan population means more space for the Maasai, cattle, and wildlife. Less and more, a lion is going to take a cow or some goats and get killed in retaliation. Lions are a vanishing species: their numbers have fallen from 100,000 10 years ago to around 14,000 today. The Maasai Wildlife Conservation Trust has pioneered a reward scheme for animals killed by lions (and other predators). The initiative is funded by the Campi Ya Kanzi Tourist Conservation fee and hires warriors as lion scouts.
In recent years, programs have been initiated to help Maasai tribal leaders find a way to maintain their customs and way of life, while at the same time seeking to meet the educational needs of Maasai children in the modern world. Most Maasai people have migrated away from nomadic life to business and government roles.
However, given the modernized urban lifestyle they lead, many Maasai’s still happily head home dressed in designer brands, only to emerge from the traditional lands wearing their usually colorful shuka, cowhide sandals and wooden orinka in their hands – at ease.
In the past, the Maasai and the fauna simply existed together, in harmony.
If this can be re-established by demonstrating the economic value of wildlife’s presence in their land to the Maasai, the future of the region, the wildlife, and the people of Maasai can be assured.