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.