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Meeting the Maasai in Selenkay Conservancy

When one hears the word Kenya, one thinks of wildlife, safaris, the rift valley, the national parks and the Maasai. This little corner of Africa is known for its incredible wildlife, especially the annual migration spectacle that occurs between July and October.
Maasai at Selenkay Conservancy

Tourists flock to the country in high numbers to experience the wonders of the national parks and the surprising twists of nature like when a giraffe wants to protect her young from the unyielding predators. But let us not forget what else puts Kenya on the map – the Maasai community.

The Maasai people have become one of the world’s most popular cultures. They migrated from the Nile valley around the 15th to 16th century and settled into Kenya over the next few centuries. All Maasai tribes share the same language; Maa – hence the name Maasai. The world out there pictures a Maasai as tall and elegant with muscular features, and brave with their distinctive appearance of holding a spear, wrapped in their bright red shoulder cloak (also known as a Shuka). We are fascinated by the colourful beads around their neck, and the earrings that sit on large holes in their ear lobes. The bald women with their numerous children (one propped on their hip, and another 2 or 3 usually following them around) and the braided hair on the Maasai Men all lend to a fascinating culture.

I stayed at Porini Amboseli Camp for one night. It was my first time in this area. The landscape in itself is a truly untouched piece of African wilderness. It was dry and dusty and natural, and so quiet. I thought I may have heard my own heartbeat.

After a fine breakfast in the morning, the camp manager had arranged for a visit to the cultural village. I’ve lived in Kenya my whole life, and have met Maasai in all sorts of surroundings, but I wasn’t prepared for what I was going to see.

We got into one vehicle and drove out of camp. The cruiser stopped suddenly, in the middle of nowhere, and our guide said, “Your cultural visit begins here.” As our feet touched the ground, I looked around us, and sure enough, we are surrounded by trees, soft sand, anthills, and bush. We started whispering. It just didn’t feel right to talk out loud in an environment such as this – so serene you don’t want to be the one breaking the silence…

A group of young men, dressed in their traditional Maasai attire were huddled together waiting for us to get organised. Our guide introduced us to a young man from the group and told us he will look after us and show us the village. I thought to myself, “the village is here?” I looked around again… we were definitely in the bush! Our guide got back into the vehicle and drove away. As I watched the dust settle behind him, I turned my attention back to the leader of the group that came to meet us. He was soft spoken, and yet his English was crisp. He began by giving us a bit of background on his people as we started walking. The other warriors (they all had spears and looked like warriors anyway) followed us, and some walked beside us. One of them went ahead and threw his spear. It created a perfect arch and landed point down into the ground. Others follow suit. I watched this in fascination as I listened to our guide talk. It looked easy. They definitely scored points on agility.

We continued walking and up ahead I saw the beginnings of a ‘boma’ (an enclosure with a fence made from thorn bushes). I heard the bleating of goats and little children sounds. Our group of young warriors went up ahead and started singing. They huddled and did a little dance and song as we were welcomed into the village. We were gathered in a little enclosure where our guide pointed out the Maasai elders and explained to us how many families lived there. The women gathered together with their cluster of young ones, and the men changed to a different tune. Various goats were joining in to the sing song, creating a re-verb of what became an interesting music mix.

We followed our guide around the village. I was intrigued by the simplicity of their lifestyle. A woman sat by a small fire cleaning a calabash with smoke and getting it ready to store milk. Another concentrated on weaving a belt with colourful beads.

A young girl had a pile of firewood on her head as she walked by us. We stopped by one of the huts, and went in for a quick look. We passed two elderly men playing their own version of the famous ‘mancala’ board game. Once again, my mind was astounded by the uncomplicated lifestyle of the Maasai. As I stood and took in this scenario in front of me, two little girls approached me and posed for a photograph, and another, and another. I couldn’t help but allow myself to be entertained as a temporary paparazzi player. The girls were laughing their hearts out, and the smile that one little child gave me, reminded me of how we are caught up in the fast pace of our own world.

We returned to middle of the village where the young men started singing again. They did their famous Maasai high jump, and they ululated. I heard the different pitches, and the chorus… aah there went the bleating sheep! The little Maasai children tried to imitate the older ones, and it was at this moment that I allowed myself to be completely free of the modern world and let the authenticity of the Maasai culture envelop me into a state of trance.

Article courtesy of Gamewatchers Safaris.

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