As you wind down through the hills from Sanctuary Olonana towards the Maasai Mara National Reserve in Africa, you will catch a glimpse of all kinds of wildlife. Zebra, giraffes, impala, and baboons, sure, but you’ll also see cattle. And accompanying the cattle are men wrapped in bright red blankets and holding staffs. These are the Maasai.
The Maasai are a semi-nomadic, indigenous African community that spans from Northern Tanzania to Kenya. To them, cattle is everything. A gift from the god, Enkai, cattle is used in everything from their diet, which is made up of milk, curdled milk, and blood (they rarely eat beef), to their housing (enkaji), which is a mix of grass, mud, and dung. A man’s worthiness for marriage — the Maasai are polygamous — is determined largely by the number of cattle that he owns.
At no time do the Maasai leave the cattle unattended in the pasture. Men always wear red because they believe the bright color will frighten off the lions that prey on animals in the area. From the time they can walk, the Maasai men monitor their herd. At puberty, boys undergo a series of tests to become Maasai warriors.
Because of the Maasai tribe’s proximity to some of Africa’s most visited game parks (Maasai Mara, Serengeti, and Tarangire), they are also one of the most well-known African natives. Unlike many other, far more private indigenous groups, the Maasai are also known to welcome visitors to their villages to learn about their customs and way of life. Travel companies like Abercrombie and Kent and Sanctuary Retreats work with the Maasai to invite travelers to participate in ritual dances and shop at the markets where the tribe’s women sell locally made beaded jewelry and wood carvings made by the men while tending cattle.
When visiting the Maasai, respect is the name of the game. Let them take the lead when it comes to interactions and you’ll be sure to learn and enjoy all the time you spend with these happy and resourceful people.