Saturday, September 27, 2014

Africa 30: A Maasai Village Tries to Balance Tradition with Modern Realities

The Maasai are a nomadic people who live in what is called East Africa's Great Rift Valley, an area that borders Kenya and Tanzania.  Large chunks of that area are now national wildlife refuge parks.

Maasai warriors are well known for their fearlessness and ferocity, especially when it comes to protecting their precious cattle.

The question facing not only the Maasai, but all of the other tribal groups, is how to balance the realities of modern life with their traditions.

In this particular village, a young, educated, forward thinking man has been elected chief specifically to deal with these issues. 

He said that when lions used to get through the thorny Acacia fence that surrounds his village, his warriors would kill them.  "But, without the lions," he said, "visitors like you do not come.  So we must compromise."
Maasai village women

The compromise was a government built a solar powered electric fence to keep the village cattle safe.  In exchange, the Maasai agreed to stop hunting not only lions, but all animals in the national wildlife reserves.
Maasai village warriors.

As a result of that agreement, the Maasai, alone, are allowed to graze their cattle in the Ngorongoro national wildlife areas.

The chief has an IPhone with a solar charger.  His village makes money by welcoming tourist visitors.  They teach the visitors about their culture and then sell them artifacts they have made by hand.
Our women learned how to make a hut out of woven sticks and cow dung.

The Maasai are a proud people who are proud of their traditions and their culture.  And they choose to live as close to their traditional ways as humanly possible, for as long as humanly possible.
Our men learned how to make fire by rubbing two sticks together.  Hint, using dried, powdered donkey dung as tinder makes the process much easier. 

These modern changes are imperfect solutions with respect to those ancient traditions and culture.
We danced and sang with them.

 But the chief and his people realize that, unless they find ways to embrace these changes, they risk losing all aspects of their traditional way of life.
They do know how to party.  Actually this form of warrior jumping is a traditional ritual for attracting women.

Not all Maasai tribal groups embrace this understanding, of course.  And the required compromises are different for each tribal group, depending upon where they live.
Still, I was deeply touched by this chief, and his determination to create solutions in a humane, genuinely compassionate way for challenges never envisioned by his ancestors.

We need more people like him.

Next time, we visit Ngorongoro Crater.

Continue on to Post 31: Ngorongoro Crater, by clicking here.


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