MAASAI tribe – the tribe that was tested by nature, government, and invasion more than once and also the tribe that fought, resisted, and survived through them along with their traditions and beliefs.


Maasai tribe is a member of Africa’s ethnic groups covering several regions of Tanzania and Kenya. They were semi-nomadic people who were once ferocious hunters, raiders, and also pastoralists responsible for the lush green lower valley of Nile. Hunting, raising, and raiding cattle was their main occupation and also the source of their food which reflects in the herd of cattle they raised across the Tanga coast when they migrated in the 17th century to Tanzania and spread across the central, northern, and southern regions of Tanzania. Followed by that, in 1852 nearly 800 Maasai people migrated to Kenya, expanding their territory which makes Maasai indigenous to Tanzania and Kenya at present.

We shall consider that expansion as the last feather to the tribe’s hat.  Between 1883- 1902 the tribe faced their first test by the nature in the form of diseases- bovine diseases to which they lost 90% of the cattle and wild animals followed by chickenpox and pneumonia in 1890.  Between 1891-1892 nearly two-third of the Maasai died, which is a huge loss to the tribe. This period was also marked by famine in 1897- 1902. Their livestock and their population were reduced and nature failed to support them. But their misfortune didn’t stop there. In 1911 the British reduced the Maasai territory in Kenya for ranches and in 1940 they were forced to leave the fertile lands between Mt. Kilimanjaro and Mt. Meru, also they were forced to leave the fertile lands of Ngorongoro to develop national parks and conservative reserves such as Serengeti National park. I think the government forgot that the tribe was responsible for the natural resources they were trying to preserve. Maasai depended on cattle and livestock for occupation and food. Their food was raw milk, raw meat, and raw blood occasionally, and they considered cultivation and agriculture as nature repelling practices. They consider cattle as their money, they barter with it and they judge a person’s richness with the cattle and the number of children he has. After 1940, with fewer cattle, low population, famine, diseases, and reduced territory, they had faced the worst life could offer. So, in 1951 they adopted agriculture to source their food. In few years, misfortune again struck when two journalists falsely accused the tribe of brutal acts on rangelands that had influenced conservationists to take action even after anthropologists proved those accusations wrong. So, in 1975 the Ngorongoro government banned grazing in their lands which made Maasai adopt the monetary custom of the civilians at that time. I shall say from what I’ve gathered, that this is the first influence of civilian society on the Maasai’s economy. They sold their medicines, cattle, and jewelry for money which bought them food. After 17 years, in 1992, the Ngorongoro lifted the ban and they resumed their agricultural practice.

The 17-year intermittent period had opened the tribe to the civilian society, customs and practices. The women were urged to use clinics for pregnancies, the tribe was given opportunities to assume urban life, government, and private jobs. Along with the lifestyle few customs of the tribe underwent alterations for example the custom of hunting lions, their totem animal, as a rite of passage to adulthood changed over time, like the custom of stealing cattle from other tribes, as they once thought that all the cattle on earth were created by God for them and it’s their right to take them. They added cabbages, rice, and fruits to their diet and started using cotton instead of animal hides, skins as their clothes.  Many organizations have helped the tribe with education, medicines, job opportunities, and welfare schemes. The evolution of the tribe’s lifestyle and custom shows that they’ve been open to changes and haven’t been dogmatic as one would think a tribe to be. But, though so many tribal people have acquired jobs in government and private organizations, deep inside they always know that they are Maasai, and when they walk from the urban area into their Enkaj (their house made of timber post and cow dung, grasses, sticks, and human urine), they walk out as a Maasai, wearing striped shukas and cow skin sandals with a wooden club, representing the responsibilities of the warrior tribe. This strong tie to their traditions and beliefs can be traced back to the education they’ve received in their tribe since they were toddlers- to show and act responsibly before acquiring them, learn to survive independently, but also follow the words of their elders, their duty towards nature and the tribe, etc. The tribe’s courage and determination made them stand against the Kenyan and Tanzanian governments when the government wanted to change their customs and tradition. They’ve fought against slavery, human trafficking, and for their rights every time. At present, the Maasai tribe has 22 geographical sites and permit to practice agriculture in several reserves and national parks. They’ve several spokespeople on their behalf and a population of approximately 1,189,000 as of 2019.


When I first read about the Maasai and other tribes, I saw them as one of us, with some differences in the ways we both live. But, they are different from us in every way, by their history, their beliefs, and tradition. It’s because of people like them and what they consider important in life, their education and their duty towards nature, we’ve forest areas, lush green valleys and somewhat breathable air.

From the article, we can see that the tradition and culture of Maasai faced the test of time along with the people and survived the tough time through the people. But, at present, they’re struggling and this time we can help them. Help them survive the drought, famine, and diseases. Preserve the diversity and hundreds of year-old culture and customs. We can act on their behalf this time.

Also, we should remember that we’ve more than enough of us. We need more like them!!!

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THE SANTALS - The largest tribe of Jharkhand

Wearing a beautiful green or white check saree, complemented with a ‘sikimala' (necklace of coins) hugging the neck, ‘baju' which is an armlet augmenting the charm, the jingling of ‘satul’ which is a santal word for bangles and beautiful and ‘painri’ adorn the traditionally dressed Santal women who interlock their hands , circling around a group of men dressed in a traditional hand loom loin cloth called ‘kacha’, shirt and a ‘banion’ along with ‘gamchha’ , dancing and singing together to the tune of their folk music. Santals have preserved their language and culture through dance and folk music. The folk song and folk dance of Santal tribe revolves around Santal religious practices. Let’s dive deeper to explore this vibrant culture of ethnic group ; Santals.

Originally known as ‘Kherwar', Santals united with ‘Mundaris' tribes. After their settlement in ‘Soant' or ‘Santh', they received the name ‘ Santhals'. Santal are one of the most populous tribal communities of India found in the state of Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, West Bengal ,Bihar and Assam . As the name suggests ; ‘santa' means peaceful and calm and ‘ala' means man, they are one of the progressive, brave and courageous communities in India. The rich and diverse culture of Santals which originated from the Austro -Asiatic linguistic group, is a result of their Pre- Dravidian ancestry.

Santal tradition has abundance of myths and beliefs. They believe in Supreme God and use a sanskritized term ‘Thakur jiu' for the creator. At present, Santals believe that ‘Sin bonga', the Sun God, is the supreme living God, who witnesses all the sins of the mortals. Whereas, their forefathers believed that ‘Sin bonga' is not the supreme God but one of His natural creation. Another fascinating myth is about the separation of human beings from God . This tale goes back to the first human pair ‘Pilcu Haram' and ‘Pilcu Budhi' who were initially innocent and pure but later they were tempted to drink beer offered by ‘Maran Buru'. As soon as they consumed the beer, they lost their innocence and sense of purity and entered the world of sins and then began their family and created tribes which were then divided into clans.

The folk music and dance of Santals offers vibrancy , joyfulness and enthusiasm. Both men and women of Santali tribe rejoice the dance. It reflects their unity and strength. The charming and engaging atmosphere is created by the variety of musical instruments used. The singers make it more engaging . Apart from the traditional costumes mentioned in the beginning of my article, the Santali men embellish themselves with the elements of nature like flowers and leaves. The colourful dresses too become the center of attraction of spectators.

The cultural and religious aspects of Santhals can be best understood in reference to nature. Settled agriculture is the most common practice of Santals. Agriculture is the pivot around which all their celebrations of life depend. All the seasonal rituals and festivals of Santals mark various stages of agriculture. In order to maintain their communion with deities, they organise various feasts. Dance and music are integral part of Santal way of living. They have music for every occasion. Their music includes devotional and festive songs . Songs of love , longing and hope too feature in their music. With their unique skills, Santals make musical instruments like ‘Banam' which is a string instrument carved out of single log of wood; ‘tirio' which is a flute made of bamboo. It symbolizes love and seduction; the two faced drum ‘tumdak'; ‘dhak' and ‘dehna'. This skill is passed on from one generation to other.

I want to bring to your notice, another absorbing story which is related to the musical instrument 'banam’, which I felt essential to write. The myth popular among Sathals revolves around the story of seven brothers who once decide to kill their sister in order to enjoy feast. After having killed their sister, six of them enjoy hearty feast while one of them overpowered by guilt couldn’t eat it and decides to bury it in an anthill. Surprisingly, an attractive tree grows there which gives out melodious tune. An onlooker enchanted by the music, cuts a branch and gives it a shape and starts playing it. At present, the popular folk fiddle comes in large variety.

Apart form their expertise in agriculture , hunting and gathering and musical instruments, Santals have exclusive artistic consciousness which is deeply rooted in their cultural traditions. It is a common practice to paint the walls of houses during festivals or ceremonies.

Their vibrant paintings are highly infuses with nature mysticism. They often depict multi-coloured birds, fishes, leaves, plants, mother, child etc. are brought together to project the love and union. Most of the paintings have village scenes at the backdrop; men and women dancing and singing surrounded by the green plants and trees.

Perpetual and hereditary rights over the land I found it worth mentioning here that Santals played a vital role in our freedom struggle; fighting against zamidari system where the perpetual and hereditary rights over the land were transferred to zamidars. In order to preserve their homes and tribes, the less sung ‘Hul' which is the Santal rebellion of 1855 took place. It is enthralling to witness how Santals with their traditional weapons like bow and arrow stood against the modern weapons of the colonizers.

With modernization and advent of technologies, many techniques and methods of Santals have undergone drastic change. The natural colours have been replaced by synthetic colours. But, Santals have successfully preserved and passed on their rituals, cultural traditions and practices to their generations. The sole responsibility lies in nurturing and cherishing the richness of Santal tribal community for ages to come.

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