A visit to a Masai village was one of the most thought provoking experiences
I have ever had. Driving across the savannah, known as the Masai Mara, our guide
pulled the vehicle up near a circle of mud huts. We were met by a tall black
man, wearing a red plaid 'sheet' over his shoulder, beaded bracelets on his
wrists and carrying a beaded stick. His ears were elongated, with dangling bead
earrings. This man was introduced as the chief of the tribe. For a fee of 110
Kenyan shillings, paid to the chief, we could enter the village and feel free to
The huts were small and square, not more than ten feet in any direction, and made of a combination of mud, dung and sticks, known as wattle. They consisted of several tiny rooms. Inside the rooms were dark with only small holes for windows and a short, narrow hole for a door. The roofs were low, flat and covered with sticks and straw. The huts were grouped in a circle joined by a fence of closely woven sticks. This formed a protective wall around the central compound which was used as a corral at night, when the cattle were brought inside to protect them from predatory animals. We noted a smell akin to a barnyard. This was where the Masai appeared to spend most of their day.
The women and children were dressed in colourful sarongs or 'sheets,' as we
heard them called. Bright colours were very popular. Plaids and stripes, prints
and checks were worn together in a glorious explosion of colours. Another high
stick fence sat in the centre of the compound. It was surrounded by Masai women
in their colourful costumes. The women were holding beaded collars and bracelets
to trade with the tourists. They were asking 40 or 50 shillings for these. I
wish now I had bought a collection of them. Several of the women tried to make
other deals with us. One wanted to trade beadwork for my shirt, another wanted
to trade my friend for her hat.
These women had very shiny black skin. Their shaved heads gleamed in the brilliant sunlight. From their trading, some had T-shirts or pants under their sheets. Many were barefoot. They were mostly tall, and all were slim. They stood very erect, which gave them a proud, dignified appearance. As with the chief, these women had elongated earlobes with beads dangling from them. Traditionally the Masai women are the ones who carry the water and wood. They wash their clothing in streams, beating them on rocks. The people looked clean and their clothes looked amazingly clean too.
Children played as carefree as any other children might. The little children
played barefoot in the dusty soil. The flies were especially sticky there.
Conscious of them, we were constantly brushing them away. These children seemed
to be unaware of the many flies that landed on them. Several of the older
children were playing with a kick ball just outside the village.
The Masai warriors are noted for their bravery. Their chief occupation is to guard their cattle, which represent their wealth and their sustenance. I looked into one of the huts. I found a man sitting inside, with a baby on his lap. He welcomed me into his home. With his smiling consent, I took their picture. Looking though into the other rooms, I noted they appeared to be empty.
The only thing I spotted inside any of their huts was one padlocked metal box, maybe where the chief kept the money. I asked our guide what they did with the money we paid to see their village. "The men use it to buy liquor." he told us. I wondered to myself, 'Do we do them any favours by bringing our so-called civilization into their lives?' I could not help but wonder about the cultural shock experienced by people who leave this pastoral way of life to be educated in cities. Our visit, to one peaceful village of this nomadic tribe, has given me much to think about.
Article and Pictures by M. Maxine George
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Last Updated on January 28, 2006 by M. Maxine George editor.
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