Dancing with the Masai

african tribe

Dancing with the Masai

During a recent tour of Kenya, we visited three well-known game parks — Amboseli, Ol Pejeta and Masai Mara. Seeing a variety of animals up-close in their natural habitat was an unforgettable experience. However, one of the high points of our tour was a visit to a Masai village.

Much has been written about the unique Masai tribe, but I discovered some interesting facts I had not heard before. This particular village had about 75 members. We were a group of 11 and were greeted effusively by the senior members of the tribe, headed by the deputy chief warrior. Their height and sinewy body are truly to be reckoned with. About a dozen men and an equal number of women (in their traditional red wraps) started a welcome dance for us. The men were wielding sticks made of ebony, and the dance involved jumping up and down vigorously.

I asked my wife to take a photo of me with the dancing Masai in the background. Suddenly the deputy chief warrior handed over his stick to me and led me to join the Masai. There, for a brief moment, I felt like the deputy chief warrior of the tribe.

We were then taken on a guided tour of the village. Their lifestyle remains the same as their ancestors’. The mud huts plastered with cow dung are dark, spartan and surprisingly low-roofed for a tribe known for its height. They demonstrated how to make fire using sticks and elephant dung.

The Masai are a pastoral tribe who rear cattle, goats and sheep. All of us were surprised to hear that they never hunt wild animals even though there are abundant games in their environment. Therefore, they are never involved in poaching. They also told us they are scared of only two species of wild animals — Cape buffalo and elephant. When asked if the lion doesn’t scare them, the deputy chief warrior confidently said that it is the big cat that is scared of the Masai!

Their diet essentially consists of milk and meat of the animals they rear. This is supplemented with roots, berries and leaves they collect in savannas. One of the facts that surprised us was that they  do not consume poultry products.

Every Masai village has a ‘medicine man’ and a midwife. Their medicines are extracts of roots, tree barks and wild berries. During our interaction with them, an observation we made was that all the Masai had a missing front tooth in their lower jaw. We were told the reason for this — centuries ago, a young man suffered from lockjaw, and the doctor was not able to administer the medicine. The young man’s condition turned critical. So, the innovative doctor used the tip of a spear to knock out the front tooth in the lower jaw, and poured the medicine through the gap. The young man survived. Ever since this episode, this particular tooth is removed as soon as a Masai child grows its permanent set of teeth. This has become an identification mark of the tribe.

Just as we were leaving the village, the cloud covering Mount Kilimanjaro lifted and we got a spectacular view of the ice-capped mountain — the icing on the cake.


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