Maasai

As I drove from Nairobi to Arusha Tanzania, I thought back to when I first learned of the Maasai people. I was twelve years old, and my best friend’s father had returned from a trip to Kenya. He told us fascinating stories about the Maasai warriors, who lived in parts of northern, central and southern Kenya, and in northern Tanzania. The Maasai were fearless fighters, who encountered lions and other wild animals on a daily basis. My friend’s father told us that Maasai boys had to go through an initiation process in order to become warriors. This was an important part of the Maasai culture.  Back then, I was already fascinated with travel and exploring the unknown. At the time, I was not able to travel outside of my small town. All I had were my travel books and a very rich imagination.

More than 30 years later, here I was, about to fulfill my childhood dream. I was excited to meet these amazing people and experience their culture. My guide was a Maasai man by the name of Lemayian. In addition to the Maa language, Lemayian was fluent in Swahili and English. He was a son of an oloibon, a spiritual leader in his village. Lemayian told me about the impacts of the modern world on Maasai culture. Urbanization, development, and tourism deeply infiltrated the Maasai lifestyle. It became apparent that the Maasai people had learned how to monetize their lifestyle and culture. There were entire villages created for tourists and travelers in Kenya. Traditionally, the Maasai people had welcomed visitors to experience their culture and traditions free of charge.

We turned off of highway A104 and onto a dirt road. Lemayian suggested we visit a Maasai village that was about 40 minutes away. The Maasai people usually don’t stay long in one place; they are always on the move looking for a better place for their cattle. However, the village we were heading to was an exception. It had been occupied by the same people for more than six years.

When we arrived at the village, Lemayian asked me to wait in the car before he returned with a man who was dressed in traditional Maasai clothing. He introduced himself as Paul. With a big smile, Paul offered to show me around. The village consisted of twenty huts constructed of wood and mud. Paul jokingly said the hardened mud walls were made of Maasai cement. We saw a herd of cattle in the middle of the village. Lemayian asked me if I wanted to try a traditional Maasai drink consisting of milk mixed with the cow’s blood. Some time ago when I visited Ethiopia, I tried a similar drink. I didn’t like it then, but I didn’t want to seem rude, so I said that I would be happy to taste it.

Paul said that it would be best with fresh cow’s blood. He asked Lemayian to hold the cow’s head. He took out a bow and arrow and hit the cow’s blood artery from close range. Blood started gushing from the artery. Paul let the blood flow into a small jug of milk and stirred it. After that he poured the drink in a mug. I took a few sips and passed the remainder of the drink to Lemayian.

I asked Paul if I could meet and speak with the town’s oloibon. After thinking for a few minutes, Paul smiled and told me to follow him. In front of a small hut was seated a man in his late fifties. Paul introduced us. The oloibon smiled at me said something in the Maa language. He told me that he had four sons and soon his oldest son was going to be the next oloibon and carry on the family legacy. He was worried about the decreasing significance of the oloibon’s traditional role as a spiritual leader, but at the same time, he was quite optimistic about the future of the Maasai people. We chatted for about 20 minutes with Paul patiently translating our conversation.

It was getting late. I thanked Paul and Lemayian for their hospitality. I left the village and headed back to Tanzania with the hope that one day I would be able to come back to Kenya.

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