The Masaai Of Tanzania

Their appearance fit my every romantic notion.

Tall, lithe, ebony bodies with elongated limbs, sheathed in bright colored fabric. Short cropped hair on perfectly rounded heads with stretched earlobes. Stunningly beautiful women, weighed down by intricate bead jewelry, who wouldn’t look out of place on the cover of Vogue. Their posture ramrod straight. Their gait almost insolent.

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But their weary eyes spoke a different story.

We were welcomed with a traditional dance, escorted around their Boma, invited into their homes. The welcome felt superficial. Tacky even. The resentment of a proud warrior race reduced to performing for tourists was palpable. Or perhaps I was being over sensitive. Perhaps the reality of their lives clashed too much with the imagery in my mind. Of the majestic, free roaming, iconic symbols of wild Africa.

Their resentment is understandable considering that cultivated imagery hardly ever benefits them.  And considering the distinct skew towards beast over man in the colonial as well as the current national conservation policies, that disregard the fact that the Masaai have harmoniously co-existed with wildlife for centuries.

Seven national parks across Kenya and Tanzania were carved out of traditional Masaailand.  Bordering the parks are more private game concessions. Denied access to their grazing pastures the Masaai lifestyle and ethnic identity is under severe threat.  Many have been integrated into peripheral service industries – mostly as camp guards or guides – or have migrated to cities.

It is remarkable that a majority still fiercely cling to their traditions, despite the hardships of being confined to conservancy areas. Perhaps the only ones of the hundred plus indigenous tribes of Tanzania that still do.

Masaai market near Ngorongoro, Tanzania
Massai cattle market near Ngorongoro.
Masaai dance - Ngorongoro Conservancy, Tanzania
Masaai dance – Ngorongoro Conservancy, Tanzania.
Masaai huts
A Boma is a group of huts in a circular enclosure. The stick frames of the huts are plastered with mud & cow dung.
Masai cattle
Livestock is currency in the Masaai world and their cattle naturally occupy the largest enclosures. Their food consists mainly of meat and blood from cattle (drained directly from the jugular!) mixed with milk. But space limitations are forcing them to add grains to their diet.
Interior of Masaai hut
Interior and hearth of a Masaai home.
Masaai girl
A captivating smile
Masaai boy in school
Young boy in the Boma school.
Masaai school
We got the distinct impression that children are herded into school just for the benefit of tourists. We were requested to make a donation to the sleepy teacher, but we insisted on stuffing ours into a locked donation box and hoped for the best.
Masaai mother and child
A gorgeous mother and child

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Hi, I'm Madhu. Wanderer. Travel blogger. Story teller. Bitten late and hard by the travel bug, I am on a mission to make up for lost time.

137 thoughts on “The Masaai Of Tanzania

  1. A thoughtful post, that is, one that gives me furiously to think. You see the surface, you see through it to depths beyond, what else lies beyond that? That’s the question you make arise. I certainly thought of the Masai as iconic; but the politics and geography of their daily lives, no, I never thought of that. I’m sure you’re right, animals are favored over people, and probably that’s because the animals bring in more tourist dollars. For some reason it made me think of Alexander McCall Smith’s “detective” series, The #1 Ladies’ Detective Agency books, set in Botswana; and I wondered if you knew them, and if so, what you thought of them?

  2. Reading your blog is like reading a magazine. I know they just jump high as a courtship dance. They showed it in The amazing Race. 😀 From my landlord, she’s been there, and said that the locals don’t like their pictures taken because they believe it’s taking away a day in their life so she couldn’t take pictures of them. Maybe only back of the day? Or are you just that charming that you were able to take their pictures? 😀 They are beautiful, for real. I wanna go there so badly.

    1. Rommel, I think it is more that they resent the fact that their photos are splashed across magazines without any benefit to them. They are perfectly fine with being photographed inside their villages. I assume they charge a fee for the visit. So no it isn’t all my charm at work 🙂

  3. Hi Madhu: I remembered this post and had to contact you! I’m climbing Kilimanjaro in July as part of an international team with an NGO. I have always wanted to see the Maasi people and a friend of mine went to one nearby Arusha and they stayed over night in tents. She said it was very culturally sensitive, not staged and one of her top lifetime experiences. Who did you go with? Did you stay over night? I’m trying to research the right organization to go with as it is very important to feel not like an invader. You can email me at: thirdeyemom@yahoo.com.

    I’m going in July! 🙂 Nicole

  4. Madhu, you are not only a brilliant blogger/writer , but sensitive,deep and honest in your observation of the Maasai Tribe. I have experienced the same with a 2 weeks mid-range safari outfitter last July which I will treasure my memories forever.. Keep traveling the world and keep putting in paper your emotions and experiences about them…the best way you know how…

    1. Eva, sincere apologies for the very belated response! I just returned to this post and discovered your comment. Thank you so very much for your kind words. Happy travels, no matter where life takes you 🙂

  5. On the way to Ngorongoro Crater we had a similar experience. I was disappointed in the performance for tourists and felt like it was all an act. I wish I had seen your blog before I went last year! Interesting learning on Twitter today with you that it may be government encouraged for tourists- not that it is much better but feels less like a scam.

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