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Sunday, March 15, 2015

Meeting the Maasai

This morning at 7 AM we met a young Masaai warrior who took us to the nearby boma. When we arrived at the thorny gate, he removed a large bunch of branches with his stick. Masaai are almost born with a stick in their hand. They use this as an extra limb to cope with rocks, uneven ground, animals, snakes, prodding goats and cattle, thorny bushes and much more. They receive their first stick around age 8 or 9, when the young boy becomes the goat herder - a most important job. They don’t seem to be able to part with their stick: we even see bicycle riding Masaai with the stick somehow in their hand.
To the right, inside the enclosed circle of huts, is the house of the first wife.
To the left are the houses of any subsequent wives and those of the young men. A house is constructed in about a week, with a frame of thin branches, stuffed with cowdung as insulation. This is plastered on the outside with a smooth finish of earth obtained from termite hills mixed with cow dung and water.

The cows are in their own separate boma, as well as the goats, each protected by more thorny branches. 
The Masaai are probably one of very few cultures left who live such a traditional lifestyle. No TV or any other modern conveniences. They are no longer nomadic but live a very primitive life which includes a strong hierarchy. After the boy becomes a goat herder, he will become a warrior at age 15 when he is circumcised. He then has to go off into the bush for 2 or 3 months, all by himself, without water or food but with a cow. The Masaai still drink milk mixed with blood. After he returns - originally this included the killing of a lion but that is no longer done because of conservation policies - he is now ready to marry the woman his elders chose for him. As a man becomes wealthier, he needs more wives to give him children who will look after the cattle. The more sons, the more cows he can own. 
“Our family has 30 cows,” our young guide told us, “we are considered a poor family. A wealthy man may have 3000 cows!”
Our guide wore sandals made from motorbike tires - very strong and helpful to navigate the many sharp rocks on the savannah. 

Young children peeked out of the boma. We entered one and saw a small fire pit in the centre (no roof hole for smoke to escape), a sitting bench build into the wall and a bed constructed of branches, lined with a cow hide. On the wall was one peg holding a large beadwork collar. A gourd was hanging on the wall and used to collect water, milk or blood.
That was the extent of their earthly possessions.
The Masaai do not hunt and they do not grow crops. So their impact on the environment is very low. 
Our guide told us he had gone to school in a town. “I was so surprised,” he said, “to see people eating vegetables! And fish!” He grinned and said he tried vegetables but did not like them very much… A typical Maasai diet consists of ugali, corn meal mush with milk, for breakfast. More ugali for lunch and ugali for dinner, sometimes with meat if and when the family can afford to butcher and roast a goat.

Considering the fact that we run a B & B, I am very glad that some rules differ in our culture… The Maasai are very hospitable and offer a bed to any visiting warriors. However, the husband leaves the boma while the woman stays. It is her decision as to whether she wants to sleep with the visitor… This rule, too, is because of the high infant mortality rate….

As we strolled around the boma, the young women produced necklaces and bracelets. We bought a large one of intrigued beadwork, for about 20.-


The rest of the day we drove around Lake Manyara National Park and spotted our first wildebeest! We also saw lots of baboons, giraffes, elephants and other animals in this beautiful lush green park where steep slopes of the escarpment meets the flat surface of the lake bed.


That night, just before sunset, the Maasai came to dance for us. Tall skinny men and a bunch of young girls, all wearing brightly colored shukas (blankets) and the girls with their round beaded necklaces. The dances consisted mostly of high jumps by the men, and the girls deciding who was the best jumper. There was much chanting and laughing and the colors, in the setting sun, were breathtaking..

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