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The Maasai- a fascinating people

Updated on January 30, 2013
Dancing Maasai men
Dancing Maasai men

Who are the Maasai?


The Maasai people are known for their tall, proud stature and their distinctive dress and ornaments. Many tourist brochures feature their colorful appearance. They live in Kenya and parts of Tanzania. Their total number has been estimated to almost one million members.  Traditionally the Maasai are a semi-nomadic people, moving where there is grazing for their cattle-herds.  But like many other tribes, life is changing for the Maasai. Among other things, the Kenyan government is trying to encourage them to settle down a bit more. One reason for this being that their roaming affects the wildlife, more specifically- the life of the lions. There are very few lions left in Kenya ( some estimates say only 2000) and the Maasai are threatening their survival by encroaching on their habitats. Killing a lion has always been viewed as a proof of manliness, and is still occasionally done.


Life and customs

The Maasai used to view all cattle of the world as a gift from God to them, so stealing cattle from other tribes was just a means of taking their rightful due. Nowadays they use negotiation and baragaining to increase their herds. Cattle has always been a central part of their lives, and a main part of their diet, including the blood of cattle. Now, because of climate-changes, there has been a lot of droughts.So as herds grow smaller, food from other areas are increasing. Quite a number of Maasai are also dependant on relief food. At present, the staple diet consists of milk-products and maize flour.They also eat different herbs and grains.

There are many customs and traditions around the initiation into manhood or womanhood, the main one being circumcision. Female circumcision is forbidden in both Kenya and Tanzania, but this doesn’t prevent people from performing it. A man might not want to marry a woman who has not been circumcised, or he will offer a very low bridal price. Different organizations along with the government are working hard to stop this practice. Even the male circumcision amon the Maasai is a painful event. It is usually done every 15 years or so to most boys in the age group of 12-25 years. The rituals around this event involve a lot of singing and dancing, the ’’ Jumping-dance’’ probably being the most well-known.

A new way of life

These days, many Maasai are finding new ways of surviving, by selling jewellery, working in office, selling milk-products or working as tourist guides. Life is changing, for them and for others. At least different projects have been launched to try and help them reach a balance between their traditional way of life, and the necessary new way. They are still resisting efforts to completely make them abandon their culture, which they are so proud of. The Maasai is truly an interesting people!

Great reading!

Find out more about circumcision


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    • poddys profile image

      Tony Payne 6 years ago from Southampton

      Nicely done. I visited a Maasai village when I went on safari in Kenya, it was very interesting to see these people and how they lived.

    • profile image

      louisa 7 years ago

      Very interesting hub, the maasai are a fascinating people. Sad that things are changing for them.

    • profile image

      naiza1986 7 years ago

      Very nice resource topic about Masai people.. They are once featured in the Awake Magazine before. :-)

    • mulberry1 profile image

      mulberry1 7 years ago

      They do look very familiar, but I didn't know the name of the tribe. Hope they transition well, and are able to maintain important parts of their own cultuer.