The Maasai people of Kenya and Tanzania

Maasai are Nilotic people inhabiting central and southern Kenya and Northern Tanzania. They are among the best famous community in Africa because their residences are near game parks and their famous traditional dressing and their distinctive customs.

Maasai speak Maa language which is a member of the Nilo-Saharan family that is related to Dinka and Nuer languages. Majority today are educated or are familiar with Kiswahili and English which are the official languages of both Kenya and Tanzania.

The Maasi population has been reported as 841,622 in Kenya in 2009 census. In Tanzania the 2011 approximate is around 800,000.

They are considered among the tallest people in the world, with an average height of 6 ft 3 inches.

Maasai, just like Samburu, and the Kalenjins, Maasai are pastoralists and famous for their reputations as fearless warriors and cattle-rustlers.

The Maasai originated from the lower Nile valley north of Lake Turkana (Northwest Kenya) and migrated south around 14th century, they forcibly replaced any community which had formed the settlement on their way others were assimilated into Maasai. Raiders used spears and shields, but they were most feared for throwing club (orinka) which could be accurately thrown from up to 100 metres.

The Maasai are the most southernmost Nilotic speakers.

Maasai lands in Kenya were reduced by 60% when the British evicted them to make room for settlers, confining them to present day Kajiado and Narok. Maasai in Tanzania were also displaced by Europeans from their fertile lands between Mount Meru and Mount Kilimanjaro and most of the fertile highlands near Ngorongoro in the 1940s. More land was taken from Maasai to create to create wildlife reserves and national parks namely: Amboseli National Park, Nairobi National Park, Maasai Mara, Samburu Natinal Reserve, Lake Nakuru National Park and Tsavo in Kenya; and Lake Manyara, Ngorongo Conservation Area, Tarangire and Serengeti National park in Tanzania.

The Maasai have resisted the Kenyan and Tanzanian government urging them to adopt more settling lifestyles. They have demanded grazing rights to many of the national parks in both countries.

The Maasai never entertained slavery. They never condoned traffic of human beings, and outsiders looking for people to enslave avoided the Maasai. Maasai land now has East Africa’s finest game areas.

Maasai society is a patriarchal in nature, elder men decides for most of the matters in for each Maasai group. Maasai worship a god called Enkai or Engai. The Maasai has a totemic animal which is the lion of course, however, the animal can be killed as a rite of passage ceremony. The mountain of God, Ol Doinyo Lengai, is located in the northernmost Tanzania and can be seen from Lake Natron in the southernmost Kenya. The central human figure in the Maasai religious system is laibon. Today many Maasai have adopted the Christianity and Islam as well. Maasai religious belief states that all cows belong to them, I mean they were given to them by their God, leading to the beliefs of cattle rustling from other tribes in order to take what is rightfully theirs. That practice is uncommon today.

All of the Maasai’s needs for food are met by their cattle. They eat the meat, drink the milk daily, and drink the blood. In recent time they have started growing food.

The Maasai undergo the rite of passage both girls and boys, boys are circumcised at the between 15 years of age to become Maasai Morans or ll-murran (warriors).

This is done by elderly who used sharpened knife and makeshift cattle hide bandages for the procedure. The Maa word for circumcision is emorata. The boy must endure the pain under operation in silence any expressions of pain bring dishonor, albert temporarily. The healing process will take 3 to 4 months. Boys must remain in black clothes for a period of 4-8 months.

Did you know the famous movie Black Panther dressing was inspired by Maasai dressing?


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