The Maasai community -History and Culture

The Maasai are an indigenous African ethnic group of semi-nomadic people that live in Kenya and northern Tanzania. The Maasai are one of the most well-known African ethnic groups, thanks to their distinct traditions, rituals, and apparel, as well as their proximity to many of East Africa’s national game parks. They are known to speak languages such as- Maa, a Nilo-Saharan language closely linked to Dinka and Nuer. They also speak Tanzanian and Kenyan official languages; English and Swahili.  The Maasai population is today believed to be over 900,000 people.

Their History

The Maasai tribe originated in the lower Nile Valley north of Lake Turkana (north-west Kenya), according to their own oral history. They began moving south in the 15th century and arrived in the 17th and 18th centuries in the broad trunk of land that runs across central Tanzania and northern Kenya. The Maasai claimed most of the Great Rift Valley and nearby regions between Dodoma and Mount Marsabit in the nineteenth century, when they were at their most powerful. The Maasai were raiding cattle on the Tanga Coast in Tanzania at the time. They fought with shields and spears, but were most feared for hurling orinka (clubs) from distances of up to 70 paces (approximately 100 meters).

After depopulating the Wakuafi Wilderness in southeastern Kenya, the Maasai warriors threatened Mombasa, Kenya’s coast, according to a report of concentrated Maasai warriors. The Maasai are currently the southernmost Nilotic speakers as a result of this migration. The Maasai ‘Emutai’ of 1883-1902 arrived following the expansion period. Smallpox, infectious bovine, pleuropneumonia and rinderpest epidemics marred this time period. Rinderpest killed an estimated 90% of cattle and half of all wild animals. Drought accompanied this dramatic period. In 1897 and 1898, the rains entirely ignored the region.  Maasai lands in Kenya were reduced by 60% between 1904 and 1911 when the British evicted them to make way for settler ranches, restricting the Maasai to the present-day Narok and Kajiado districts. In the 1940s, the Maasai were driven out of their agricultural plains between Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Meru, as well as the majority of their fertile highland territories surrounding the Ngorongoro. National parks and animal reserves were established on more land. Masai Mara, Samburu, Ngorongoro, Amboseli, Nairobi National Park, Serengeti, Lake Nakuru, Manyara, and Tarangire are some of Kenya’s most popular safari destinations.

Traditionalists, the Maasai have rejected the Kenyan and Tanzanian governments’ calls to adopt a more modern lifestyle. The Maasai have properly claimed pasturing and grazing rights in a number of Tanzanian and Kenyan national parks. The Maasai tribe remained firm against slavery and coexisted with the majority of the land’s wild creatures, refusing to eat birds or wildlife. Maasai country today includes some of East Africa’s most beautiful natural and animal areas.

Their homes

The Maasai tribe, who are usually nomadic, have built their odd and intriguing homes utilizing readily accessible materials and indigenous technology. The traditional Maasai house was created for people who were always on the move, therefore their homes were incredibly mobile. Women make the manyatta (houses), which are either round or loaf-shaped. Their communities are encircled by a circular Enkang (fence) constructed by the men, which protects their cattle from wild creatures at night. The Maasai tribes’ society is solidly patriarchal, with elder Maasai men, sometimes joined by retired elders, deciding most critical decisions. The Maasai are monotheists who worship Engai or Enkai as their God. The end of life for Maasai people who live a traditional way of life is almost without a formal funeral ritual, and the corpses are put out in the fields for scavengers. Burial has traditionally been reserved for great chiefs only, as the Maasai think that burial harms the soil.

Traditional Maasai life revolves around their livestock, which are their primary source of sustenance.  A man’s wealth is measured in terms of children and animals among the Maasai and several other African ethnic groups.  As a result, the more the better.  A man with a large herd of cattle but few children is considered impoverished, and vice versa.
According to a Maasai legend, God gave them all of the cattle on the planet, leading to the conviction that rustling from other tribes is a matter of claiming what is properly theirs, a behavior that has since become much less widespread.

Their Music and Dance

The Maasai music is traditionally made up of rhythms performed by a chorus of vocalists singing harmonies while the olaranyani (song leader) sings the melody.
The best singer for that song is usually the olaranyani. The olaranyani begins singing the namba of a song, and the entire group responds with a single acknowledgement call.
Women sing lullabies, hum songs, and sing praise songs to their sons. The role of the Greater Kudu’s horn in summoning morans (initiates) for the Eunoto rite is one exception to the vocal creation of Maasai music (a coming of age ceremony). The ritual typically lasts ten days or more. [Flirting occurs during the singing and dancing around the manyattas.] Young males will form a line and chant, while ladies will stand in front of them and sing in response. Traditional Maasai rhythms, chants, and beats are increasingly being incorporated into the music of contemporary Hip Hop singers from northern Tanzania. 

Their clothing

Clothing differs according to gender, age, and location. After their circumcision, young males wear black for several months. Red is, however, the Maasai’s favorite color. Black, blue, checkered, and striped material, as well as multicolored African clothes, are also worn. In the 1960s, the Maasai began to substitute commercial materials for sheepskin, calf hides, and animal skin. In the Maa language, the cloth used to wrap around the body is called Shukà.


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