Meeting the Maasai

This afternoon, after our last visit to Tarangire National Park, we got to visit with the Maasai tribe. A real highlight of our safari so far.

The chief met us on arrival at his village. A tall man, dressed in the traditional red robes of his tribe, he spoke very good English as he explained daily life in his village.

We watched as a couple of ladies built a new house out of long, thin sticks. They had stuck them in the ground to make a circle about 8-10 ft in diameter. When we arrived, they were circling the structure with more thin sticks and then tying them together every few inches.

The chief explained that they would cover this framework with cow dung mixed with mud and water to insulate the home (and keep the termites out). Then they would roof it with palm fronds.

He explained how his family functioned. He had 3 wives. The first one got to pick the rest of them out. They all had to get along. He had to have so many head of cattle before he could marry. The more cows, the more wives he could have.

The men spent their days tending their herds, the women were responsible for everything else: raising the children, cooking, taking care of the house (and even building it). The women also spent time making items to trade (and sell to any tourists that came by).

After the chief answered our questions, he brought us to the corral where they kept their animals at night. Built of thorny branches in a thick layer, it kept out the predators. Inside, we were treated to a dance put on by most of the tribe. The women on one side and the men on the other.

The women wore large beaded collars around their necks. One or two would move from the ends towards each other in the center of their line- bowing their upper bodies and chanting. The men stayed on their side of the corral, humming and chanting in low voices. Every so often they would jump straight up with their spears, as high as they could.

When the dance finished up to a round of applause, the women spread out their creations for our inspection (and hopefully a sale).

It was a little gross, walking through all the cow patties, etc. But when it comes to shopping (and getting good photos), nothing would stop us. 😉

They made beautiful beaded jewelry- necklaces, rings, bracelets and earrings. They made carved and painted animal figures, bowls and boxes. They had a pretty good day by the time we left.

Yes we contributed to their commercialization. Their lives have already been corrupted by modernity no matter how much they try to retain their traditional culture. I’m glad I got to meet them, before they get too homogenized. I hope they can improve their lives and somehow keep their culture strong too.

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