The Maasai
People & Culture

Maasai (not Masai) is the correct spelling of this noble tribe: it means people speaking maa. Masai was the incorrect spelling of the British settlers and has remained in current use. The Maasai have always been special. Their bright red robes set them apart visually. Spear in hand, they are calm and courageous regardless of the danger.

The armed British troops who drove the Maasai from their lands in the early 20th century had great respect for these fearless tribesmen. Up until recently, the only way for a Maasai boy to achieve warrior status was to single-handedly kill a lion with his spear.

This is home for East Africa’s most iconic wildlife including: lions; elephants; leopards; zebra and giraffes. The land contains important resources not just for the people of Kuku, but the habitat reserves, forests that are carbon sinks, and rivers and springs supply fresh water to more than 7 million people living in and around the port city of Mombasa, Kenya’s second largest city.

Maasai society is firmly patriarchal in nature, with elder Maasai men sometimes joined by retired elders, determining most major matters for the Maasai tribes. The Maasai people are monotheistic, and their God is named Engai or Enkai.

For Maasai people living a traditional way of life, the end of life is virtually without a formal funeral ceremony, and the dead are left out in the fields for scavengers. Burial has in the past been reserved for great chiefs only, since it is believed by the Maasai that burial is harmful to the soil.

Traditional Maasai people’s lifestyle concentrates on their cattle which make up the primary source of food. Amongst the Maasai and several other African ethnic groups, the measure of a man’s wealth is in terms of children and cattle. So the more the better.

A man who has plenty cattle but not many children is considered to be poor and vice versa. A Maasai myth says that God afforded them all the cattle on earth, resulting in the belief that rustling from other tribes is a matter of claiming what is rightfully theirs, a practice that has now become much less common.

Traditionally, the Maasai music comprises of rhythms rendered by a chorus of vocalists singing harmonies, all the while the olaranyani (song leader) sings the melody. The olaranyani is usually the person who can best sing that song. The olaranyani starts singing the namba of a song and the group responds with one unanimous call in acknowledgment. Women recite lullabies, hum songs and sing music that praises their sons.

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