Mysterious and exotic, the Maasai people have been the center of Kenya’s rural culture for generations. When you visit Masai Mara National Park and other game reserves here, you are on their sacred land. These fascinating facts may help you put their traditions into context:
- Traditionally, Maasai warriors were fierce nomads who fought with spears, shields and orinka, or clubs that they could accurately throw from 70 paces. They arrived in Kenya from the north in the 15th century, stealing cattle from villages as they passed.
- Ancestral tribes of the Maasai called this land “Mara,” which means “spotted” in their Maa language. The word was used to describe the dark clusters of trees, scrub and cloud shadows that dot the savannah.
- A large part of Masai Mara National Park is run by the Mara Conservancy, a nonprofit formed by local Maasai tribes. Some tribe members patrol the park as rangers.
- In Maasai tradition, cattle is currency. Many villagers keep their cows and bulls inside a fence crafted from thorned acacia branches to protect their wealth from lions and other predators.
- The typical Maasai hut, or enkaj, is a circular structure handmade from a mixture of mud, cow manure, grass and sticks, all tightly packed on a frame of timber.
- It is common to meet Maasai women who have stretched their ear lobes, upon which they hang strings of ornamental beads as earrings.
- The “jumping dance,” or adumu, is part of a coming of age ceremony for young, would-be warriors. The competition is performed in a circle as one or two step into the center to jump on their toes.
- Maasai culture remains strongly patriarchal. Typically, the elder men of the tribe decide on all matters that affect their group.
- Today, local organizations work with Maasai tribal leaders so they can preserve their traditions in today’s world, while acknowledging the importance of a modern education for all children.
Uncover more secrets of the Maasai during our Kenya Safari Exploration.