The Maasai people, one of the most well-known tribes, are recognized for their unique and ancient rituals, attire and beliefs. But they are slowly modernizing, and more and more younger members are leaving their homelands and traditions for life in the city. Here are 15 things you didn’t know about the Maasai people of Kenya and Tanzania.
It’s estimated that up to one million Maasai people live in Kenya and Tanzania. Many Maasais will argue that the number is inaccurate due to the inability to count them, since some clans do not want to be counted. However, many have migrated to bigger cities and do not dwell in smaller traditional villages.
Originally from Sudan, the Maasais have largely lived nomadic lives and often relocate to different regions. Today, the majority of them live in Kenya and Tanzania and have settled down, drastically reducing their nomadic pace.
Clothing signifies Maasais’ current life status such as being young, old, or recovering from circumcisions. They often wear colorful shukas (sheets) that are wrapped around their bodies, and women often wear intricate jewelry made with beads, wood, clay or bone.
The Maasai are one of the few cultures in the world that partake in throat-singing. They use their throats to mimic sounds that some would say sound eerily like a cattle call. Traditional dancing involves jumping where young men will typically engage in competitive jumping to prove their masculinity and flirt with women.
The indigenous people of Kenya and Tanzania speak Maa which consists of 30 contrasting sounds. Tone is an important part of their language and plays a role in conveying mood
Maasai culture centers around their cattle. They believe that all the cattle in the world are only for Maasais to keep as a gift from their god, Ngal. Because of this belief, it’s not uncommon that Maasais will steal cattle from neighboring villages, believing they’re only taking back what is “rightfully theirs.”
Young Maasai men rarely get married because of their duties to be warriors and protect their village. Once a warrior has reach a certain age where he is no longer adept at fighting, he is finally ready to take a young bride. Young women have no duties that prevent them from marrying so it’s highly common to see big age gaps between the husband and the wife.
While they have history of being nomads, many Maasais are starting to settle down in circular mud houses. The “cement” they use to build their homes are often mixed with mud, sticks, grass, cow dung and human urine. These houses usually keep the residents safe from dangerous wildlife.