Overnight with the Maasai

Ever wondered what barbequed goat tastes like? The really fresh, straight-from-the-slaughter kind? Head to your nearest Maasai village.

At the end of our safari, we spent the night at a Maasai village to learn more about the people and their daily lives. The village was extremely small (two households) and was located about 25 km from Arusha along some very bumpy backroads.

Now when I say “small villlage” of two households, that gives you an idea of why the Maasai population keeps growing at an alarming rate. The two brothers who started the village each have two wives (Maasai are polygamists), and between the two households there are about 45 children.

Can you seriously imagine being pregnant that long? Me neither.

Maasai welcome dance

Maasai welcome dance

When we arrived the senior warriors performed a welcome dance, which included each warrior jumping as high as he could. We listened to them sing, and then they showed us around the village.

Each wife has her own hut made from a mixture that includes material from termite mounds (largely wood), cow dung, ash and cow urine (if there is no water). When the mixture hardens, the walls are quite firm and are good at keeping out the dust and wind. The roof is made from branches.

No, it does not smell. I know you are wondering that.

Billy is barbequed

Billy is barbequed

After welcoming us, the Maasai invited us to sit around the fire. Then poor Billy was ushered in, and the goat was slaughtered in front of us.

Now this was no Vietnamese chicken. When an animal is slaughtered by people who know what they are doing, it is quick and there is no suffering. We watched them skin the goat and cut it up for roasting over the fire.

We ate some meat, which actually tasted pretty good. We gave the rest of the goat to the tribe, as our cook had also prepared yet another large, tasty meal. The tribe was more than happy to eat the goat, although the best pieces of meat go to the men. Women definitely come last in this society.

We slept in our tent, and then we were up at the crack of dawn to learn how to milk goats. We also watched the men take the cows to pasture.

Sophie learns to milk a goat

Sophie learns to milk a goat

A Maasai guide from the next village took us on a tour of the area, teaching us about various vegetation. We even learned how to make a Maasai toothbrush and throw a spear.

Once the two-hour walk was over, we returned to the village and made beaded jewellery with the women. We had breakfast, and sang songs and played games with the kids while camp was packed up. Then then we were off.

The experience on the whole was a little depressing. Women have no rights in Maasai society, and are basically told who to marry and when. Female genital mutilation is still routine, which is a horrific act carried out on young teenagers with no anaesthesia, and some girls die from blood loss or infection.

Some of the younger moms actually encourage their girls to run away when it comes near the time for the act to be performed. There is an organization in Moshi that provides a safe house for these girls. They are also working with the older generation to provide education on why the practice needs to stop.

Unfortunately it is the older generation that controls what happens, so it will take years before real change will be seen.

Claire plays with Maasai children

Claire plays with Maasai children

The amount of mouths to feed in Maasai families means there is no way these people are going to bring themselves out of poverty anytime soon. A few years ago a long drought killed many cows, which led to starvation among the Maasai population. Our guide had to give up his dream of attending school to become a tour guide because his family had no money to pay tuition when they lost seven cows.

The Tanzanian government has recently made it mandatory for Maasai children to attend school. There is hope that education might create change to move the culture forward. But it’s clear that life will continue to be a struggle for these people for quite some time to come.

2 Comments on “Overnight with the Maasai

  1. Hi, one question Heather why do they all walk about with long canes. I see even the girls carried them?I assume for herding the cows.

    • Yup – they are for herding cows and goats. They also offer some protection from wild animals.

      – Heather

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