Sunday, October 16, 2016

Making Friends with Maasai Men

My fascination with Maasai men and their culture all started with George. A handsome young Maasai warrior with big loops in his ear lopes, dressed in a dazzling orange and yellow check Maasai blanket and tunic and adored with intricate bead necklaces, George, the son of the chief, was our eloquent host when we visited the Maasai village on the second day of our dramatic tour with  Absolute Africa

Jumping off our massive yellow bus with relief after a gruelling three-hour ride on a bumpy dirt road, the five of us weary travellers are warmly greeted by exuberant, resplendent Maasai men dancing and singing and leaping high in the air, as if on the bouncy pogo sticks I remember from childhood. 

The enthusiastic performance sure wakes us up! And then George leads us into the village; a collection of mud huts surrounding a large round yard and pens for cows, goats and sheep. A huddle of men demonstrate starting a fire without matches (a handy skill they share with the Aboriginal people of my homeland Australia and all clever boy scouts!)

George explains that the proud Maasai tribe that extends across a vast territory north and south of Nairobi in Kenya, right into Tanzania are nomadic herders who graze their livestock far and wide. The Maasai revere their cherished cows relying on their milk mixed with their blood for food. They also eat goat and sheep meat and these days supplement their high protein diet with vegetables bought at the markets.

George says brides command a bride price of 10 cows, five sheep and 10 blankets and traditionally the tribe has been polygamous. George’s father has six wives and many children comprising a big happy blended family. However George, a modern young man in his 20s, is content with one wife, Evelyn, a savvy businesswoman who runs the craft shop, and they have five children. George is also a pastor so Christianity is now modifying Maasai beliefs and practices.

George guides us into one of the tiny mud huts, which are hand built by the women, and shows us the miniscule beds where a wife and children sleep, with the husband rotating around the huts each night to sleep with each wife.

Next the beautiful women in their colourful dresses gather to perform a song and dance and we clap and sing along to show appreciation. Next stop is a huge circular thatch-roofed hut overflowing with enticing jewellery and trinkets and coveted Maasai blankets. I’m mesmerised trying to choose bracelets and necklaces to take home as gifts for my family.

William came for me at 5am before dawn, when I spilled out of my tent, a dishevelled mess. His job was to drive me to the hot air balloon launch site. So we sat quietly in the powerful Land Rover as this handsome man in his 30s, drove adeptly along the familiar roads of his tribal land of breath-taking beauty, pointing out animals stirring from their morning slumber.

As I arrive to see the massive striped balloon lying limp on the ground in preparation for lift out, I’m nervous with trepidation, when William glances down and kindly points out that my shoes are on the wrong feet! We have a good laugh and he waves me off, saying he will collect me after breakfast to transport me to the luxury lodge to rendezvous with the rest of my group. With no idea where I am, in the middle of nowhere, I have to simply trust my new friend, feeling intuitively that I am in safe hands.

True to his word, William shows up at our elegant breakfast on the open plains after my spectacular hot air balloon ride across the Maasai Mara. (read my previous post for details!) As we bounce along, to my delight and surprise, William spontaneously decides to take me on a personal game drive to spot some of the Big Five.

I cannot believe our luck when we stumble across a family of beautiful cheetahs, languidly luxuriating in the sunshine, draped on a mound under a scraggy bush. There’s mum, blinking and smiling, and four playful cubs posing for a family portrait! I pretend I’m David Attenborough and make a little video with a voice-over, which William finds highly amusing!

And then William steers us to a creek bed where we spot a huge male lion lying on his back with his giant paws in the air, his belly heaving with each breath. Williams explains that the lion has just feasted on a kill and is lazing around digesting his meal, in the exact same pose my cocker spaniel Honey takes when she wants a tummy rub.

I tease William by saying “What would happen if I got out and gave the lion a tummy rub?” If a black man’s face could turn white! I swear William’s shocked expression was imaging the beast having me for dessert and how would he explain that to the boss? “I’m only joking,” I say, and we share a laugh at dumb tourists! A few metres away down in the creek bed, we see the lion’s female mate also resting in the shade so we leave them in peace and head off.

Driving along, I chat with William about his family. He is the proud dad of six children and he has ambitions of a good education for all his daughters and sons so they can get good jobs and expand their opportunities and embrace a contemporary lifestyle.

After a photo together and exchange of email addresses, William leaves me at the lodge. I’m hoping for a hot shower and fresh clothes but my travelling buddies hustle, saying there’s no time before the next exciting adventure.   

After getting sick with the bumpy ride in the back of the jeep yesterday, the others suggest I ride up front with Peter, our experienced Maasai game driver.

First we spot dainty gazelles scampering along, their little tails wagging, then two adorable baby warthogs galloping after their mother, elegant Topi antelope with their impressive horns, herds of wildebeest, their heavy heads chomping on grass with their fine veil of whiskers blowing in the breeze! And there’s an abundance of zebras huddled together. The mature ones, dramatic in their black and white stripes, groom each other’s bristly necks while the brown and white youngsters prance and cavort!

As we drive towards the famous Mara River, with the pure hot sun beaming through my side window, I glance across at Peter’s profile and ask about the big loops in his ear lopes. He happily explains that the hole was cut as a boy, and gradually expanded by wearing bigger and bigger sticks and he adds that the droopy adornment can be worn “out or tucked in!”

He points to a scar on his muscular black arm, in the shape of a paw print and explains he got this when he killed his first lion… and then another scar on his right arm and others on his thighs. Peter explains he has killed seven lions in total since he was 15, acts of life-threatening courage and bravery, which earned him the role of Chief. I am astonished to discover I am chatting casually with a highly respected Masai chief and that he has opened up freely about the tribe’s manhood rituals.

He says the Kenyan government has now made it illegal for Maasai warriors to kill protected lions in the Reserve so this ritual has recently come to an end.

Peter is wearing many lavish necklaces to signify his status as chief. His surname is Narok, the name of the bustling town we passed through; his ancestors’ name. The family owns 190 acres of land and a guest lodge for international visitors. I am gob smacked! He kindly invites me to come and stay and experience the Masai way of life! Wow! Now that’s an offer I will take up!

Here is an amazing Maasai man successfully blending traditions with 21st century business skills and technological know-how. His smart phone fits nicely under his robes!

And then Peter expresses his hopes and dreams for his six daughters. He is putting them all through higher education and university qualifications. His eldest girl wants to be a pilot! What wondrous changing times for rural Africa!

After a picnic lunch on a Maasai blanket, we discover the Mara River is teeming with hippos and crocodiles and watch a herd of zebra stand transfixed on a cliff staring into the swirling waters below, seemingly contemplating whether to cross the treacherous river to reach the fresh pasture on the other side. They appear to be weighing up the risks of being killed and eaten by ferocious crocs as against the lure of the greener grass! The leader of the herd edges closer and the others follow. They stand and pause then all of a sudden change their minds and retreat. What a spectacle to witness!        

When we break camp at the Maasai camping ground the next morning, I get to ride in the cabin with Stephen for a slightly smoother ride than in the back of the bus, being thrown around during the three-hour trip on the rough, unmade road to Narok.

I had no idea our shy, quiet expert bus driver Stephen is also a Maasai man. He is a brilliant driver navigating countless potholes and rocks with unwavering concentration on this dangerous road. He does this demanding job to support his precious family; his wife, Lily, a primary school teacher, and his three young children, whom he’s missing, especially his baby!

Stephen lives on Maasai farmlands owned by his family, 30 miles south of Nairobi. I am surprised to discover that Maasai lands extend south of the city. When the British colonised Kenya and established Nairobi as the capital they had no regard for carving up tribal territories.

As we drive along forming an unlikely friendship across our two different cultures, Stephen extends a warm welcome to me to visit his family on my next trip.

There is much more to learn about the intriguing Maasai people and I know in my heart I will return. 



  1. Hello, that's the real maasai culture in Kenya, so interesting story as it entails moral values of the maasai in my Country

  2. Fascinating insight Diane into the individuals you have encountered during your journey. It's interesting to see how traditional Masai customs are becoming modernised with women taking on business and entrepreneurial roles, and demanding monogamy from their husbands! I believe many tourists give no thought to the hard working young men and women helping to give them their trip of a lifetime. I'm sure George, William, Peter and Stephen were touched by your interest. - Susie

  3. Really enjoying your African adventures Diane.