From the swaying grasslands of the Serengeti to the heights of mighty Kilimanjaro and the vast plains of Tsavo, the lands along the Kenya-Tanzania border – including the Maasai Mara National Reserve – have seen millions of safari-goers in recent decades. But to the pastoralist Maasai people, this part of the Great Rift Valley has been home for centuries more. And while the encroachment of modern life has issued challenges, the Maasai people and tribe have remained stalwart adherents to their culture, and welcoming ambassadors to visitors from near and far.
The Masai in Tanzania
The Maasai (or Masai) are semi-nomadic people located primarily in Kenya and northern Tanzania. They are considered to be part of the Nilotic family of African tribal groups, just as the Scilluk from Sudan and the Acholi from Uganda.
In Tanzania, the Masai are especially prominent in and around Ngorongoro and the Serengeti, while Kenya’s Masai Mara takes its name from these proud people.
The Masai are predominantly cattle breeders, eating meat and milk that they produce themselves. Cattle products are a central part of the Masai diet, with other animals such as sheep being more for special occasions than day to day use.
In fact, traditional Masai culture revolves closely around the tribe’s cattle herds. The measure of a man’s worth is measured in the number of cattle he owns and the number of children he fathers, with the latter depending heavily upon the former.
Traditionally, the Masai people are recognizable by their distinct attire. They wear sandals and wrap their bodies in robes of red, blue, or black. Women spend much of their spare time doing bead work, and they often adorn their bodies with their creations as well as bracelets & earrings of wood or bone.
The Masai society is a patriarchal one in which groups of male elders typically decide on important issues concerning the community.