The Maasai

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Maasai Elder and Cattle, TanzaniaHow does one begin to describe the Maasai. They are a proud, regal people who are caught between tradition and the 21st century.

We were very fortunate in being able to visit a traditional Maasai  boma or homestead, rarely seen by tourists. The tourist  bomas are better equipped due to the influx of tourist dollars. The traditional  bomas are the ones most in need of World Vision's help.

Water TroughWorld Vision is helping by bringing potable water to villages. The first village we visited on the slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro - Ol Molog - had water coming to it, but it couldn't be kept clean due to the needs of both livestock and people. The low-tech method of separating the water into a trough for livestock and a pipe for people also allowed potable water to be piped to another village further down hill. The technology was simple and inexpensive to us, but beyond the reach of subsistence farmers.

One thing we learned very quickly was that it does not take mega-projects to solve the problems of developing nations. What is needed are low-tech, local solutions that the people can run themselves.

Maasai bomaThe traditional  boma we visited was, in many ways, like stepping back in time. It was set on a dusty plain; we had to drive Maasai Homeoverland to get there. The  boma was surrounded by a planted thorn shrub fence with a small opening through which we entered. Inside were a number of huts surrounding an inner enclosure for livestock.

It was easy to feel intimidated by the Maasai - their height, their bearing, and the very foreign surroundings contributed to this. We were definitely out of place here. Laurie with Maasai womenHowever, it wasn't long before the barriers were down and we felt comfortable communicating with them. Laurie made an instant connection with the women who found her lack of ear lobes and adornment rather strange. The Maasai women, on the other hand, have quite large holes in their stretched ear lobes with ears that were heavily adorned.

Maasai BoysThe afternoon continued like this. What struck us were the contrasts: there was a bicycle in the  boma, old and rickety, but a bicycle nonetheless. One fellow had a baseball cap on with more western-style dress. Most of the Maasai were wearing sandals made of old truck tires. But by far, the most interesting people were those who were traditionally dressed, especially the warriors.

At first they did not want to be photographed. Earlier in the day at the first village, Terry had them looking through his camera. Then Laurie had them looking Beth with Video Camerathrough binoculars. Finally, Beth Miedema got out her video camera with a 2" screen. Well that was a real hit with them. Here in the  boma, after a few shots of people with a Polaroid camera producing pictures they could keep, everyone wanted their picture taken. After shooting one fellow and his family, he then wanted photos of each of his wives and their families. For a while it became a bit of circus. But, unfortunately, we had to go. As we boarded our Land Rovers, I couldn't help but think how the cultural chasm between us had just widened again.

Maasai Initiate
Maasai Initiate
Maasai Warrior
Maasai Warrior
Maasai Warriors
Maasai Elders
Maasai Elders
Old Maasai Woman
Old Maasai Woman


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An excellent overview of the Maasai can be found at Maasai


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