After several trips in Maasailand, it is hard to ignore the people of this tribe.
The vivid reds and blues of their shukas (robes) are hard to miss, and the dogged determination to cling to tradition, as seen in their style of dress, hanging earlobes, bejewelled bodies and the numerous bomas across the countryside draws the interest of many visitors.
There was the initial fascination: Wow! I am seeing the Maasai in real life! That which I saw on the screens of Nat Geo I have now seen with my own eyes!
There was the frustration of dealing with illegal booms set up across the Lake Natron region, where the Maasai claim rights to money just for being a tourist in their region, and the irritation of several pieces of jewellery shoved through a window when one has no desire to purchase their wares in that manner, at that time.
There was the intrigue: what causes this tribe to cling so persistently to their heritage in the face of several challenges to their Maasainess? And this led me to read a lot more about them, spend a little time with some Maasai and also to take the concepts developing just a step further.
There is much to read about the Maasai, online, downloadable Kindle books, and in Nat Geo back issues. Longido, where Deon is spending much time for work, is filled with Maasais, and I took the opportunity to visit a boma while he was in the field one day.
I deliberately chose this space and not one of the several others around: Longido is not quite the heart of tourist-ville and I wished to support people who are a bit off the well-beaten-safari-car-track. Also, as this is where the company is working, it seemed a bit more beneficial for the work’s presence.
I was accompanied by Juma,, himself a Maasai, who answered my questions with great honesty and knowledge.
One enters through a gate (there are as many gates as there are families in the boma)
Through fences erected for protection against wild animals, originally. THere are probably on average 20 houses per boma. Central to the boma are the kraals where cattle, goats and donkeys are kept, the cattle having pride of place in the centre.
Cattle are central to a Maasai’s existance: they belive all the cattle in the world were sent by Lengai (God) to them, so taking cattle from others is not stealing but reclaiming their right. At night the men will sit in designated spots and count their cattle, observe their health and possibly just stare in wonder at their beasts.
(There is a bench on the left there where Mr Maasai will sit to view his cattle across the boma).
There were no men present when I made my visit: I simply arrived without any warning as I hoped to catch real life on the go, not a tourist show.
It was special to capture the women as they go about every day business.
A belt being beaded piece by piece.
The village was rather quiet: the women are very hard workers and many were away to collect water, firewood and gather other items to use.
The houses are made by the ladies too: piece by piece they put up wooden beams to hold the house in place, and all the ladies will gather to work on one house at a time. They make a mix of mud, cow dung and ash and use this as plaster and walling to build the house. The doorways are low, but one can stand upright inside the house. Juma warned to be aware of the darkness: after bright sunshine outdoors the house inside was pitch black. It took some time to adjust to the dim solemnity within.
The only light was provided by the little parrafin-lit bottle hanging on the wall. The house is small, but not cramped. There are normally 2 bedrooms and a room for small goats and calves to sleep inside the house. The beds are very low and very little synthetic goods are used within the home.
A central fire place is where all the cooking is done and the embers are kept burning non-stop. Behind the fireplace is one bedroom, and to the left is the second.
This mama graciously allowed me into her home, and showed where her 2 children live with her.
As I left the house, the real time-taker took place. A few ladies gathered with their items to sell, and I decided it would be impossible to only buy from 1 or 2, so I would buy something small from each one.
As I was bending over near the fifth lady, more and more and more arrived: There were about 20 sellers when I left! (when I arrived back at our lodging about a half hour later,, there was a lady who arrived to sell her goods; she had heard their was a very generous (or stupid?) Mzungu in town! )
Beadwork is common, but these ladies also find pieces of porcupine quills, seeds from local trees and use them all in their crafts. I will not show my wares here… there are Christmas presents in the pickings (there is now not much left of a Christmas budget after buying from all the gals!)
The desire to find out more about some of the peculiar habits of these people has led me to read a lot and to seek out stories about real people.
The fascination has grown, imagination fostered and so it is leading to…
developments! Nanowrimo is a wonderful way to get people writing: the aim is to write 50000 in a complete novel format, in the month of November.
My novel is yet in its foetal stages, but thoughts around the role of women in Maasai, education, western involvement and honour are all concepts I wish to explore. Watch this space… more may be revealed!
And please understand if many blogs do not get published this month. I will be pounding away at the keys for other pursuits…
A very fascinating site is the moran, or boys currently undergoing circumcision rites, that we passed along the roads.
This ritual only takes place every five or so years, so this was special to see. The boys are sent off to special camps and will remain in these black robes for 4 to 10 months after circumcision. Only after they have performed certain rites (in the past this centred around killing a lion with only a club. For ecological reasons this practice is being reconsidered) may they attain their red and blue shukas. There are several fascinating practices around this stage in a Maasai’s life.
We saw about 20 morani in all on the roads, normally requesting money. They are all in black and use chalk smuggled out of classrooms or ash to paint their faces.
Finally, we leave a view of when the incongruous is seen. Old and new, flash and humble all in one…
You just have to love Africa.