Dona Cherian, Guides Writer
Mara, or the African bush, gets its name from these people and is world famous for its annual wildebeest migration.
My first interaction with a Masai didn’t seem out of place or unique except for what he was wearing.
Our guides' names were Dominic and Francis (pictured above), though they were not your average 'Dominic' or 'Francis'. They spoke perfect English with perfect smiles and were the best guides we could have hoped for.
A Masai 'kraal' or village
As we reached the Masai village, we could see a circular fence made of acacia thorns and branches. We are met at the entrance by William, our Masai village guide.
A swarm of flies descend on us, and William is quick to apologise saying, "It's because of our animals." Livestock is sacred to the Masai, their source of income and food. I wonder how long I would have to stand still before I am completely cloaked in flies.
Dyed hair and horns
Behind William came a group of young men, some looking stranger than the rest, with tight braids and unicorn-like horns, except that they're coloured a lovely shade of red. Dominic tells me they use powdered branches of red teak to get that vibrant coral-red colour.
The rite of passage
Once a boy passes the rites making him a man, he becomes a warrior, responsible for protecting his village and livestock. Most men carry spears or arrows. Some of these rites could also include spear throwing.
As they put on a performance (look at the young guy above carrying a horn almost his own size), William continues, “We carry no guns, but we do carry spears to protect ourselves and our cattle. We don’t kill wild animals. We only kill if required to defend our lives.” The Masai believe that killing a wild animal, if not for defence, can affect their prosperity and livelihood.
Everything is extremely colourful, mostly yellow or red. The wraps look similar for men and women except that some of the women have t-shirts underneath the wraps. The first signs of change I think.
Jump for my love
The young tall Masai men then showcased their jumping competition for us. As expected, the higher you jump, the better are your chances at getting the girl. Bare feet and on stony ground, it’s amazing how high the Masai can propel themselves, jumping as high as 80cm off the ground. Years of practice is all it takes they tell us.
The Masai women are (literally) homemakers. The women build the houses using wood, straw, cow dung, mud and cow urine. They also cook and tend to the children. The men protect the village and take care of the animals.
Female circumcision used to be normal tribal practice – however Kenyan laws strictly prohibit female circumcision – so this has stopped almost completely now.
We go into one of these huts the women make. There are four rooms, says William (pictured above). These consist of an animal room (calves and young ones), a kitchen, a children’s room and a main bedroom. It is really dark inside, I wonder how they move around.
As my eyes adjust, I see a little girl of two or three sleeping on a small makeshift bed in the ‘children’s room’ which is a dent in the wall right next to some pots and pans.
And then another dent in the wall is the master bedroom with a cat lounging on a bench placed flush against the wall.
“We do practice polygamy”, says William, and then points to a child standing in the shade of the hut. “She is my daughter, my fourth child.” As I tell him she is beautiful, he goes on, “I will have more soon.” His little girl, seen above, said "Hello" in English to our "Jambo" in Swahili.
Next up is the market where each family has a stand with things they made themselves; necklaces, bookmarks, bracelets and traditional wrap arounds in the most brilliant colours. They understand dollars and you’re allowed to bargain.
I picked up a necklace and the seller immediately took a small branch to scratch a price onto his arm. He looked at me and I traced a smaller amount on his arm with my finger. We struck a deal after three rounds of doing this.
On our way back, I asked my counterpart Nyawira from the Kenyan Tourism Board why the government wasn’t doing more to help these people such as getting them electricity and water in their houses.
They shun it all, she said. They don’t want anything or anyone to change the way they live. Some of the elders even consider basic education as an evil that's pulling away their boys.
A word with Francis
As we drove away from the village, I am curious about one thing in particular. The Masai drink animal blood mixed with milk, believing it makes them stronger. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
I ask Francis, “Do you like the cow-milk and blood drink?”
“Yes, very very much,” he says and smiles at me in the rear-view mirror. Just a day in the Masai Mara, and I see this ‘Francis’ in a whole new light.
Needless to say, I am going to miss my warrior guides and most of all, the breath-taking Masai Mara.
More about the Mara and her people
There are less than a million Masai spread across the arid and semi-arid regions of Tanzania and Kenya.
A nomadic people by culture, their settlements have become almost semi-permanent now due to legal restrictions from both governments, and scarcity of lands to move around.
The Masai are stubborn preservers of their way of living, fighting against modernisation, education and western cultural influences. They even shunned education until a decade ago. Now some children, mostly boys, are allowed to go to school. The ones who have gone to school, like William, Dominic and Francis, are adorned with an English name that precedes their Masai one.
Some young Masai men have found work in the city and moved away from the settlements. No matter what, the Masai and the Masai Mara should be on your bucket list, at least before the world and civilisation, in the name of civilisation, erodes all this beauty.