The camp we stayed in, Kichwa Tembo (Elephant Head) is located on land leased from the Masai. As in the Kruger, we spent an afternoon visiting a Masai village to learn how their people live. We picked a few hitchhikers on our way to the village.
Our guide during this visit was the chief’s son.
We had a welcome song from the village women
and then a welcome dance from the village men. This dance is quite funny for tourist eyes. The young Masai jump up as high as they can while emitting sharp cries.
Whoever jumps the highest earns first pick of the young women. The boys kept up with the Warriors surprisingly well.
When a young couple weds, it is the bride’s responsibility to build their house out of sticks and mud. Houses typically consist of three “rooms”: sitting, bedroom
and a small room to lock the calves in for the night.
The Masai are herders, they drink the milk AND the blood of the cow. They only take a few spoonfuls at a time by inserting a sharp spear into the cow’s carotid artery and then sealing the wound with a paste made of a special herb which grows all around their village. Cows are integral to their lives. So much so that they regularly conduct raids on other villages in order to steal their cows. Of course they are also sometimes the victims of such raids. It was described as great fun though so one has to wonder if the ultimate function of these raids is simply sport.
The village elders are in charge of building the fire, it is a responsibility only they can assume.
The young bride is given fire and she must keep it alive inside her home and never let it die out.
The Masai people are polygamist and also practice genital mutilation: both male and female circumcision. This is usually done during a ceremony once the young man turns 14. Our guide didn’t elaborate on the age a girl has to be to undergo this atrocity.
For a man to become chief, it was customary for him to kill a lion whose mane then becomes the chief’s headgear. This lion was killed by our guide’s father back in 1971.
However, our guide let us know that this custom is no longer followed as the Masai have learned that a live lion is worth much more in tourist money than the mane of a dead one on the chief’s head.
Apparently, polygamy is on the decline as well. Our guide was educated at a western school in the city where he met his wife. When I asked him if he was planning on getting a second wife, he looked horrified. He replied that Kenya has an overpopulation problem and the young people are being educated now to understand that there is no need to have such large families.
The Masai build fences surrounding their villages with sticks and stones to protect themselves from predators. The young men take turns mounting guard during the night in case a lion, leopard, or hyena manages to get in.
One common thing we’ve learned about people in Africa is that they don’t seem too concerned about predators. Elephants though, do scare them.
This village visit was much more enjoyable than the one in South Africa and it all has to do with the children. Masai children were running around and playing during our visit.
The ones who were curious enough about us would come over to say hello but none of them were forced to perform for us. That small thing made all the difference.
We found the Masai people to be extremely gentle and hospitable. They played as big a role as the animals in making us fall in love with the area.