The Maasai tribe is one of the most well-known tribes in Africa. The Maasai people lead a nomadic life and pastoral livelihoods. They are Nilotic, with populations gathered in the northern, southern, and central regions of Kenya and northern Tanzania. They reside within the bounds of various game parks such as Ngorongoro, Amboseli, and Masai Mara Game Reserve. There is much to know about the unique and fascinating culture of this indigenous tribe. Here are 13 interesting facts about the Maasai -tribe that you probably never heard about till now.
Lifestyle Facts About the Maasai -Tribe
1. Maasai Population
The Maasai population was believed to be about 1 million, but the most recent data points to the population statistics of the Maasai- tribe at approximately 900,000.
2. Maasai Language
The official language of the Maasai people is the Maa language. The Maa language is among the Nilotic languages related to the Kalenjin, Nuer, and Dinka languages. Besides the elderly Maasai in rural areas, most Maasai speak English and Swahili, the most-spoken languages of Tanzania and Kenya.
3. Maasai Shelter
The Maasai have unusual and interesting housing. A traditional Maasai house is known as an Inkajijik. The Maasai shelter is transient because they are nomadic people. They depend on easily available materials and indigenous technology to build their houses. These houses are either circular or molded in the shape of loaves made by the Maasai women.
The villages have a fenced barrier called Enkang, which the Maasai men construct to shield their cattle from wild animals during nighttime.
4. Maasai Food
Maasai food comprises six basic ingredients: milk, meat, honey, tree bark, fat, and blood. During ceremonies and special occasions, lambs, oxen, and bulls are butchered for meat requirements.
They take their milk fresh or curdled. They drink milk from calabash, a native African gourd. The milk is sometimes mixed with fresh blood from cattle. They take the blood by cutting the jugular vein. This mixed drink of blood and milk is usually used during rituals or as a remedy for the sick. Cattle play a very important role in Maasai- tribes.
4.1. Maasai Medicine
The Maasai turn to natural remedies such as blood and milk drink during sickness. They also get the ingredients for their medicinal concoctions from stems, roots, trees, and shrubs. They boil these to add them to soups. Plants and their products are crucial components of Maasai medicines.
Cultural Facts About the Maasai -Tribe
The Maasai society follows firmly patriarchal ideals. Retired elders and older Maasai men hold the veto power and make all the important decisions for the tribe.
The Maasai, who are strict traditionalists, do not hold a formal funeral ceremony in case of death. Instead, they offer the bodies to scavengers by leaving them in barren fields. Burials were meant to be for only great chiefs because they believed it would damage the soil.
Traditional Maasai people’s lifestyle heavily depends on cattle for food and other things like cattle hide and skin for bedding and cow dung for smearing house walls. In Maasai and most other African tribe cultures, an individual’s wealth is determined by their cattle and children. The more they have of both, the higher their status. But having too many children but no cattle or too many cattle but no children is a sign of poverty.
5. Maasai History
According to oral accounts by the Maasai people, the tribe originated in the lower Nile valley near the north part of Lake Turkana in northwest Kenya. They began to move toward the south in the 15th century and arrived at their current settlement in Tanzania and Kenya in the 17th and 18th centuries. Since the 19th century, their population has been mostly saturated in the Great Rift Valley.
In the 1940s, the Maasai residing in Tanzania were forced away from fertile lands between Mount Meru and Mount Kilimanjaro, including fertile regions near the mountains of Ngorongoro. The Maasai territory was captured to make space for wildlife reserves and national parks such as Samburu, Nairobi National Park, Serengeti National Park, Tarangire, Manyara, and more.
The Maasai -tribe believes in traditionalism. They have fiercely protected their ideals and resisted pressure from the Kenyan and Tanzanian governments to adopt a modern way of life. They claim to have grazing and pasturing rights in the reserves and parks built in their homeland of Tanzania and Kenya.
6. Maasai Clothing
Maasai clothing differs according to age, gender, and location. After circumcision, young men wear black for a few months. Red is the most popular color among them, but they also wear blue and black clothes that are checked or striped along with other colorful African attires.
The Maasai used to wear calf hides, sheepskin, and other animal skin. Since the 1960s, the Maasai began to adopt more commercial materials. The cloth they use as a shawl, a woven and thick blanket made out of cotton to wrap around their bodies, is called Shúkà in their traditional language.
Jewelry and ornaments play a huge role in the Maasai -tribe, especially for women who love weaving and beading. Stretched earlobes and ear piercings are considered a beauty standard among the Maasai -tribe. Maasai men and Maasai women wear metal hoops on their stretched earlobes.
Big fashion brands such as Louis Vuitton have taken inspiration from the traditional clothing of the Maasai- tribe to design their versions of the clothes. The same goes for pristine jewelry brands inspired by the big and bold Maasai ornament designs.
7. Maasai Hair
Maasai people shave their heads during celebrations of rites of passage, such as circumcision and marriages. It is symbolic of a new start as an individual ends one chapter of their life and begins another. Only the Maasai warriors are permitted to wear long hair. They let their hair grow and love styling them in various ways, such as weaving them into thinly braided strands.
Maasai children are named ‘3 moons’ after their birth. Their heads are shaved clean during this time, leaving the part of hair from the forehead to the nape of the neck. The boys also shave their heads two days before being circumcised.
8. Maasai Religion
Maasai people are monotheistic. They believe in only one God, named Engai or Enkai. Their God is benign and gracious and appears to them in colors depending on how He feels. These colors hold different meanings. Dark blue and black mean God is pleased with them, whereas the color red means God is annoyed with them.
The two manifestations of Engai include:
- Engai-Narok– The black God. He is tolerant and caring and brings prosperity and nourishment. The Maasai look for him in the rain and thunder.
- Engai-na-Nyokie– The Red God. He is vindictive. He brings hunger and famine to the people and is linked with dry seasons. The Maasai find him in the lighting.
9. Maasai Music and Dance
All Maasai music is vocal. They do not incorporate instruments into their music or dances. Sometimes though, they use a large horn for special songs. The Maasai- tribe wears beads that jingle when performing the jumping dance. Their music is rhythmic, with vocalists singing harmonies forming a melodious chorus of singing.
The melody is sung by the song leader known as the olaranyani. The olaranyani is the person who can sing the song the best. When the olaranyani sings a line or Namba, the song’s title, the group sings along unanimously in acknowledgment.
The Maasai women recite lullabies and sing and hum praiseful songs for their children. Singing and dancing are mostly enjoyed during the rains, which they consider auspicious. Rites of passage such as circumcision and marriages and Eunoto, a coming of age ceremony lasting for ten or more days, are celebrated with music and dance. These occur around manyattas that are huts within a common fence unit and are seen as great opportunities for flirting.
Other Interesting Facts About the Maasai -Tribe
10. Culture of Jumping in the Maasai
The jumping dance is known as Adamu among the Maasai locals. For the dance, young men of the Maasai- tribe form a semicircle and chant in unison. They each take turns by coming in the middle of the group and jumping into the air, straight and as high as they can. The dance is observed very carefully by the women. The Adamu is a mating ritual for the tribe. The dance is to prove the strength of the Maasai warriors to attract women. Many tourists are fascinated by this dance and attempt to try it themselves but cannot reach the same heights as the Maasai men.
11. Maasai’s Role in Land Management
The Maasai are environment conscious. Maasai pastoralists are known to graze their herds through the Great Rift Valley without disturbing the wildlife or the land they reside on. They do this by migrating to different lands during different seasons to let the previous land recover before going back to graze it. They do not cause massive disruptions to the ecosystem either because their primary source of food is blood, milk, and livestock meat, making the hunting of game animals zero to minimal.
12. Importance of Fire in the Maasai Tradition
The Maasai men prove their courtship through their fire-making skills. They are kicked out of their nests from a young age and left to learn how to hunt and survive on their own before making their way back to the village and proving their worth to the Maasai elders. Making fire is an essential skill they need to learn among the basics. They take pride in making fire with only dried leaves and sticks.
13. Lion Hunting
Lion hunting used to be practiced by the Maasai -tribe for Maasai warriors to prove their strengths. They had to kill a lion alone or in a group. The only weapons they were allowed were their iron spears. Only male lions were hunted for this rite of passage, called ala-mayo because female lions were considered sacred in their culture. Lion hunting is now banned in East Africa. The Maasai people only kill one if it threatens their cattle on the Maasai lands.
Modern World and the Maasai- Tribe
Government policies are being implemented to preserve national parks and wildlife reserves. These policies completely ignore the cultures and traditions of the Maasai- tribe while also excluding their traditionally relied lifestyle on the Maasai land. This makes it difficult for future generations to learn about and experience their culture.
Recently, plans have been proposed to Maasai tribal leaders to keep their culture, traditions, and livelihood while also finding a way to educate Maasai children at the Maasai school for the future modern world.
Today, many Maasai people have stepped away from their nomadic lives to take up roles in the government for the betterment of their tribe and in businesses and commerce. These people may lead an urbanized life, wearing designer clothes from big brands. But they never forget their roots and wear their traditional shukas, orinkas made out of wood in their hands, and sandals made out of cowhide. They are content with the way they stand in the world.
Safaris To Meet the Maasai Tribes
1. Cottars 1920s Safari Camp
The Cottars Safari Camp provides an exciting, immersive experience of the Maasai culture. It includes medicinal plant walks, running with Maasai warriors, foraging, visiting Maasai warriors’ schools, and other cultural expeditions. This Kenyan safari includes guided walks and beautiful night drives which are not allowed in game parks for safety reasons.
The area where the camp is set has a climate of warm, sunny afternoons and cool, pleasant nights with zero humidity.
Luxury tents are provided for people participating in this safari camp. Tourists can avail the services of butlers during their stay. The Explorer Tent has first-edition unique African books and equipment for safari exploration. The Mess Tent has a lounge with a fireplace, a library, and a bar.
Activities at Cottars 1920s Safari Camp include:
- Visiting the local school
- Game drives during the day and at night
- Maasai singing and dancing
- Swimming at the waterfall
- Visiting the Maasai warrior school
- Traditional canvas bush baths
- Spa treatments
- E-bike riding
- Visiting the Maasai village
- Ballon riding over Masai Mara
2. Saruni Mara
Masai Mara Safari Lodges have been set up for people to experience the Maasai traditions, cultures, and way of life. Exciting game viewing and serene safari walks are organized by the local Maasai people, who generously provide insight into the Masai Mara and the wildlife. It is located in an area bordering the Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya.
The Masai Mara is home to Africa’s most exotic wildlife, with over 500 species of birds for bird lovers to spot. All the safari vehicles come with guides fluent in the species and binoculars to help identify them.
You can meet the Maasai warriors and their families during the Masai Mara safari. They are keen to introduce their cultures and traditions to tourists and anyone willing to learn more about them.
Activities at Saruni Mara Safari include:
- Viewing the Seasonal Great Migration
- Game drives during the day and at night
- Guided bush walking
- Warriors academy
- Sundowners and bush meals
- Visits to the local markets
- Bush wedding facilities
- Hot air balloon ride safaris
3. Sanctuary Olonana
Sanctuary Olonana is a luxurious Great Migration safari lodge. It is located near the banks of the Mara river. It has glass-side suites with amazing game views. The area is prone to wandering wildlife of elephants, lions, cheetahs, buffalos, giraffes, hyenas, antelopes, and many birds. The Wildebeest Migration can be viewed from the lodge itself.
Guided tours of the nocturnal wildlife at the Masai Mara are available here. Walking tours are available during the daytime to have an intimate tour with the Maasai people.
Sanctuary Olonana provides tourists the workshops where local artisans display traditional arts and crafts.
Activities at the Sanctuary Olonana include:
- Guided nature walking
- Game drives
- Visiting the local school
- Sundowners at scenic spots
- Visiting the local Maasai village
- Activities exclusively for children
- Spa treatments
- Hot air balloon rides
- Honeymoon services
- Candlelit bush dinners
Click here to find out about the most famous safari animals.
The Maasai- tribes are the most well-known among other tribes in Africa. They have rich and captivating cultures and traditions that they have protected and managed to preserve today, even though they face continuous pressure from the government and the outside world to change and become modernized. They are confident and at ease with themselves and the knowledge of their place in this world. Theirs is a tradition worth experiencing at least once in a lifetime.