Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Travel Series: Maasai Village, Maasai Mara, Kenya, Africa.

I am SO behind on my blogging. Looking through my pictures folder we've got restaurants in Kay-El that we ate at more than a month ago. I should really get around to blogging before I forget about they tasted like.

I think I've got something better though. Continuing my travel series, today I'll take you to the Maasai Mara game reserve in central Kenya for a sneak peek into the lives of the most photographed ethnic group in the world - the Maasai. Mammoth post below!

When going into a Maasai camp, it's customary to meet up with the chief (or his representative), and offer an 'offering' as an 'entrance fee' of sorts. For us, it was 1000 KES (rm36) per person, which buys entry to the village, the freedom to take photographs, and to watch the men do their traditional 'jumping' dance. The dance, accompanied by loud rhythmic chanting, is done to:

(i) celebrate the slaying of a lion, and
(ii) to entertain fair-skinned, wide-eyed tourists.

While I fail to see how entertaining visitors is a worthwhile replacement for the thrill of defeating the king of the jungle, I'm not complaining. And the men get some jumping practice. Which is useful, because apparently if you can jump really high, you get a discount on the dowry you pay when 'buying' a wife. I didn't really ask in detail, but I'd imagine as a man you'd go meet your prospective future wife's in-laws, and the conversation would go something like this:

You: How much for your daughter?
The In-Laws: 10 cows.
You: ** start to jump as high as you can **
The In-Laws: You have good genes. OK I give you discount ... 7 cows.

Easiest negotiation ever.

Anyway, this is the son of the chief. His dad was off somewhere attending an inter-village tribal meeting - you know, doing the important stuff - leaving him behind to entertain. You can't really tell from the photo, but that's a hat made from the head of a lion. It probably belongs to his dad. I mean you can just tell from his face that he's thinking "yay, dad's not here so I get to wear the lion hat!"

I kid, I kid. The women are up next, to perform their traditional dance, which is infinitely less interesting than the male dance. The dance, which involves chanting/singing and swaying their hands back and forth, is done to:

(i) celebrate a marriage, and
(ii) to entertain fair-skinned, wide-eyed tourists.

Just like in Western society, you can easily tell a married woman from a single one - the married woman has anklets on.

You might have noticed one of my pictures above has two lumps of fresh cow droppings. And you might be inclined to go 'ewwwwwwwwwww.' But the Maasai wouldn't eww at all - they mix cow dung with soil and use it to build the walls of their huts/homes. You wouldn't hold a brick and say eww, would you?

Anyway the entire village will only stay in one location for 9 years - because termites eat away at the soil/dung mixture and the walls sort of start crumbling. So 9 years in one spot, then they pack up and move to a new spot where it takes 5 months for the women to re-build their huts.

Those of you who are sharper-eyed might have noticed that all the children in my pics are girls. Where are the guys? From 7-9 years old they go to school to learn Swahili (the Kenyan national language). Then they tend to the goats, sheep and cows, bringing them to faraway pastures to graze and drink.

At nine years old. Our kids at 9 aren't even allowed to look at anything remotely sharp. Maasai kids are handed the family's entire livestock. You know, cos what better way to teach your kids responsibility than to give them a stick and a few dozen goats, say 'here, take the goats and make sure they stay alive, cos if you screw up and lose them our entire family will starve and die' ... right? No pressure.

Oh, and you know those survival shows you see on the telly about some Westerner survival expert taking forever to start a fire? The son of the chief demonstrated starting his fire in the rain - and didn't even need 5 minutes to do it.

Back to the huts, though - they're maybe 100 sq ft tops, and fit an entire family of 4-6, a store room, a dining room cum kitchen and a room to house the baby goats/cows. The entire house has one 'window' (which is really just a 3-inch hole in the wall), and a small wood fire that's used for cooking, boiling water, and providing heat and light. Naturally the lack of ventilation makes the entire house smell sort of like a pub/club in Kay-El. But smokier. And darker.

(And you thought your 2,000 sq ft apartment was cramped)

Before I finish, just a slight bit of a 'reality check.' If you're thinking "well hey their life isn't that bad," this particular camp is possibly the richest, most modern and clean camp in all of Kenya - reason being is that it's right next to the main camp grounds area of the Maasai Mara. Practically everyone here on safari will stop by this village - and pay the 1000 shillings entrance fee - so they're like the Berkshire Hathaway of the Maasai world.

I'll cover the Maasai Mara safari in a future post, hope you've enjoyed the tour!


  1. Wow! What an exotic holiday - Very cool. :)

  2. Such a wonderful culture!! Must be cool to experience the culture!!

  3. I thought I saw EA on wrist of chief's son when starting fire, turns out not, lol.