Tanzania: The Maasai People

posted in: Cultures, Tanzania | 0

We were fortunate to spend a day with the Maasai people who live a simple and traditional life. They are semi-nomadic people who migrate to graze their livestock in the wild, defending against lions and wild animals with just spears. It was truly humbling to see how happy they were living in harmony with mother nature, without the need of any modern technologies and societal constructs.

Sitting inside a Maasai hut
Sitting by the middle pole inside a Maasai hut filled with smoke from the indoor smoldering fire

Housing in “Inkajijik” (huts):

There are usually 10-20 huts in a village surrounded by a protective fence made out of wooden poles erected into the ground. Huts are built by women out of wood and padded with hardened mud/soil. It takes 3 weeks to construct a hut and they last for about 5 years.

Each hut is snail-shaped with a spiral side entrance that is barely 140cm tall. Otherwise, there are only two small hand-sized holes as windows. Inside the hut are two sleeping areas on the floor covered with cow skin and separated by a middle pole; right side for the parents and left side for the children. In front of the beds is small space for keeping young livestock inside safe at night as well as an indoor smoldering fire which fills the hut with thick smoke.

Traditionally dressed Maasai
Traditionally dressed Maasai outside his snail-shaped hut

Clothing and Jewelry: 

Men wear red-colored drapes, specifically chosen because the color detracts lions from attacking. They carry a long wooden stick to help herd livestock and wear simple slippers to protect their feet. Some men will wear ear piercings and jewelry, along with light tattoos into the sides of their cheeks.

Women generally wear blue-colored drapes, with their arms folded up underneath. They carry children on their back under the drape and walk around the village barefoot. For jewelry, they have a white hat accompanied by hand-made thick white necklaces and heavy elaborate earnings that often stretch out their earlobes by even 10cm!

Relationships:

While the tribal chief of the village we visited had 6 wives and about twenty children, other huts in the village generally were monogamous couples. Children live with their parents in the same hut until the age of 18 when they move into a “boys” or “girls” hut. They learn from others in the tribe to acquire skills and languages, including their tribal language Maa, as well as Swahili and some English. They undergo an arranged marriage at the age of 25 with a spouse from another village that was chosen by the chief already when the children were young.

Maasai boys in warrior training
Maasai boys in warrior training

Food and Livestock:

The Maasai diet consists of only meat from cows, sheep and goats. Breakfast is a porridge made from a mix of animal blood and milk; lunch and dinner are purely meat. No vegetables nor fruits — when we asked why, the answer was simple: “we don’t like them.”

Unlike other African tribes that hunt wild animals, the Maasai raise their livestock. Starting from an early age, boys are sent for even weeks at a time to graze livestock and defend them against predators. In fact, just three weeks before we visited the village, a lion attacked their goats!

Entertainment:

The whole village engages in singing and dancing, as seen in the welcoming ceremony above. Even without musical instruments, the Maasai are incredibly talented with using their vocal chords to develop full rich melodies.

A particular favorite pastime among the men are jumping competitions. A group will gather in a semi-circle singing and chanting, while 2 people will go in the middle and jump as high as they possibly can. We highly recommend joining along for an incredibly fun bonding experience!

Maasai women singing tribal songs
Maasai women singing tribal songs

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