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MASAAI of KENYA
By Sandra E. Sharp


When I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Tanzania, I worked on a medical project in the Serengeti. I cleaned larvae out the eyes of small children, who did not know that flies would infect their eyes and destroy their eyesight but that is another story. It would best be told with a cup of hot chocolate with marshmallows.
I will tell you about another safari to Kenya. I invited 5 Americans to participate in my son Christopher Sharp's Kikuyu wedding celebration! Three of us, Katherine Nelson, (Chad) Christine Wilhem, (Afghanistan) and I (Tanzania) were Peace Corps Volunteers. Dr. Richard Sharp, Christopher's father, Robert Colbern, his best man, and Cynthia Chivers, a professional photographer, completed our Kenya group.It was the first trip to a Masaai Village for most of the group. Mrs. Chivers and I had visited one before. I was very excited about returning to Masaai Reserves since I had not visited in 42 years. When our party of six left the Mara Sopa Lodge, our driver said he got permission for a visitation from a local Masaai chief.
The Masaai are cattle people. They live in the grasslands of Tanzania and Kenya, in the Serengeti and near the Masaai Mara Reserves of the Great Rift Valley. Many Masaai have goats and sheep but are cattle herders. Cattle are their life. Their belief is that God gave cattle to them. They measure wealth by the number of cattle a man owns. When our land rover arrived at the Masaai Village, goats and cows were everywhere.
When the seasons change, they move to a new location. They live in drier grasslands in the wet season. They live in wetter, high grasslands when the weather is dry. What would happen to the Masaai if their cattle did not get enough to eat?
I saw several huts. Women build them, and it takes 6-7 months to build one. The women use urine and dung from the cow to make cement. They use grasses and branches to form the structure of the hut. The cement does not smell badly; the sun dries it and makes it hard.
We met David, the young chief, and his father. They greeted and welcomed us to their village. We walked with David to see what the young Masaai warriors were: doing. They were tending to the cattle. They are to take care of the cattle, and give them “dawa” medicine. A young man gives a cow an enema. Do you have animals or pets at home? How do you take care of them?
After watching the men's work, the Masaai girls performed a dance and sang a welcome song. Even the goats liked the ceremony. When the girls finish singing, the young men and babies perform a dance.
The Masaai are tall people, who are proud and handsome. The young men wear red plaid cloth, draped around their bodies and carry sticks.
Then they dance, they jump very high and chant. Only the Masaai dance this way. They can jump 3 to 5 feet above the ground without bending a back. Again, even the goats are impressed with the young men.
David walks with us to see more huts. Remember this is women's work. They are made of dirt, cow dung, urine, twigs and branches. At night, small animals are sheltered inside the huts and sleep with the family. They are safe from the weather and large animals.
We meet a young man adorned with beautiful beadwork. I asked him his age. He is 14. He said when he is 15; he will have a coming of age ceremony. This ceremony will declare to the world that he is a man. He must leave the village to learn survival skills. Fourteen-year-old boys were required to kill a lion with one spear before they could become men. Now, however Kenya laws forbid them from practicing this initiation rite. What rite of passage do boys go through in order to become men in your community?
It's a good day to hang the wash out on the bushes. This is women's work. Woman also milk the cows and bring buckets of water to the village. What jobs do you (girls ) have to do at home?
The men are working to enclose the compound with branches, and a thorn brush fence. They tie the brush together. This natural fence will protect the cattle from larger animals. The thorns are as sharp as knives.
They are also building a teacher's house and requested that I come back and teach their children. They want me to live comfortably. It is going to be a nice brick house! The “fundi” – Swahili meaning skilled workman is a good craftsman.
David invites us to his home. He has a wooden club in his hand. He would protect his family and us with it. Also, if a hostile animal enters the compound, he would herd it away from the cattle goats and tribal members or bludgeon it to death.
His wife and baby are inside. doorway and a very small square opening in the wall conducts smoke from a fireplace to escape outside. It is warm and cozy, but smoke gets in your eyes. His son eats cereal out of a bowl! There is a large, brown gourd propped against a wall. We enter but cannot stand up. We sit on a smooth log in darkness. It could have milk, blood or honey in it. The women must pick gourds from vines. They must clean them out and use beads and leather to beautify them. Why would the Masaai put blood in a gourd? They drink it. The Massai drink milk every day. When they do not get enough from the goat or the cow, they mix cow's blood with milk. They believe that blood gives them strength. They also eat flat bread, vegetables and herbs, goats, chickens, fish and on special occasions beef. Their life expectancy is 50-55 years.
Outside of David's hut a woman collects thorn brush. It will be used to make a fence.
We speak to a noble grandmother! Her ears have been cut and stretched. That is a mark of beauty. Someone can then decorate them with beads, coke bottles, snuff cans etc. I asked her what her role is in Masaai society, and she replied, 'To teach/“kufundisha mila” tradition and skills to my grandchildren ‘mjukuu.’ She also said that elderly Masaai must lead ceremonies. What do the elderly do for your neighborhood?
Men also have their ears have been cut and pulled. It is a sign of beauty. What do young men do to make themselves attractive to young women in your community?
Before we go shopping, we meet other families in the village. Each village houses 81 huts. How many houses are in your neighborhood?

We are going to an open air market or “sokoni,.” This is the first time these Masaai have prepared an open air market for foreigners. We walk to the middle of the compound, and see a circle enclosed with stalls made of branches. On the ground, in the middle of the circle, a Masaai placed packages of red checked fabric all in a
Vendors vie for our attention. They want us to look at their merchandise.
Two young women are selling traditional and contemporary masks, bracelets, and small necklaces.
At another stall, traditional Masaai wedding necklaces are displayed; they are mostly hung around the top of the stalls. Contemporary masks are also shown in the background.
A vendor dressed in red is also trying to sell wedding necklaces.
We meet a young man in a bright red cloth with a shawl of kitenge tied around his neck. He and I have a good conversation, and I ask him questions about school. He says that he is studying in London, England. He loves English and math, and that he wants to help his family with the cattle business after he graduates from college. Being in Masaai land during the summer months is a welcomed break from the big city environment of London. He loves returning home to be with family and friends.
Another vendor shows us more merchandise. Look at the small decorated gourds and the beaded bracelets.
I wonder what the mask in the corner symbolizes?
It blends traditional Kamba designs with elements from West Africa. It is also carved from wood of the neem tree. And neem wood can be used to stave off malaria.
The Masaai are warriors. Here are a few of their weapons - spears and shields. The shields are made of cowhides and the spears are of wood and iron.
A person in our party traded a watch for an artifact. Another person traded a tee-shirt for a mask.
The present day Masaai dress as we do. They feel comfortable in both the traditional and western clothes.
A man is selling carvings of the Masaai giraffe. The carvings showed a giraffe with either two or three horns, dark jagged edged markings on its body and legs. These are the Masaai giraffe. There are two other types of giraffe in Kenya, the Rothschild and the reticulated giraffe. The Rothschild weighs more, has three to five horns, is paler and white below the knees. The reticulated giraffe is the smallest of the two and has a dark, red skin with white markings. What incredible earrings!
A woman had been bargaining with us most of the morning She decides to relax under her stall. I am tired, and it is hot,” she says. “I need to shade myself from the sun. You have made some good purchases.”
“Before you leave our village, I will demonstrate how I carve the elephant's tusk,” says an artist.
The young girls are taking care of the babies, so we can shop and talk to their older sisters,take the lives of their children. However, nature gave them an answer.
They saw a bird settle in a tree. It had grass in its beak. It was building a nest for its babies. They observed the bird flyaway in the sky and over the mountain tops. The chiefs sent some boys to track the bird. They climbed a mountain to see the view on the other side. The boys did what their chiefs ask them to do and returned to the village.
They told them what they saw, that abundant green lands, with trees and green grasses and rivers flowed, on the other side of the mountain. The Maasai made a decision to move there, so they built a gigantic ladder to help them cross over into the new land. Entire villages, cattle and people began to climb into the new world. When half of them reached the new high ground, the ladder snapped. Many fell to their deaths. Those who survived knew they had to live. They began to grow and prosper in their new environment, so this is how the Massai were separated from other people. The story is part of the oral culture of the Masaai and passed on from one generation to another.
You are the first and last travelers we will see today! We are happy you came to share what you have with us, and we are still curious about you. Please do not forget us, and come back again to Masaai Mara, our homeland.