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the masai tribe

Updated on October 19, 2013

One of the most colourful of all the tribes in East Africa.

The onslaught of civilization has meant that Africa is running out of tribes who have managed to preserve their culture, identity and ancient ways of life. One of these tribes is the Masai, sometimes spelt Maasai who to this day remain a primitive tribe of warriors living mainly in Tanzania and Kenya. The majority of the tribe which in total consist of about 100,000 people live in border areas of Tanzania and Kenya, in areas dominated by the huge mountain of Kilimanjaro.

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They roam freely on the savannah from country to country, from place to place, with no consideration for customs rules or state borders. For centuries the Masai, in contrast to the Kikuyu, Luo, and other tribes were able to maintain ancient customs and a way of life which has existed for centuries.

According to one report, the Masai originate from Egypt specifically the upper reaches of the Nile, somewhere between the lands of modern Sudan and Eritrea. This goes somewhere to explain why, just like the inhabitants of those Northern African regions, Masai women shave their heads remove their two lower front teeth.

Masai people consider themselves to rank the highest and most noble tribe in Africa. They do not mix with Europeans or any Africans they regard as being from “lower class tribes” eg the Kikuyu, Meru, Kalenjin, Luyha, Luo, Kisii, Kamba, Swahili or Turkana.. They believe and indeed are entirely convinced that God gave them all the animals in the world. Futhermore this belief allows them to indulge, quite legitimately in the theft of cattle from other tribes without fear of retribution by the Kenyan Law.
They live from rearing cattle and other livestock. And because of their nomadic lifestyle they have developed a total lack of interest and in fact are completely unfamiliar with crop growing and agriculture.

The relationship of the tribe is based on a strict set of rules. The Tribe itself is made up of several groups of men who are all around the same age. The most important event for these young men is the ceremony of dedication and circumcision.

After the circumcision the young Masai warriors leave their homes, armed with spears, sticks and swords to make their life on the plains where they will take care of the livestock. A warrior who manages to kill a lion receives the tribe’s highest honour and is then entitled to wear a head band made from the lion's mane during ritual ceremonies.

After the early initiation test, the men become like brothers forming a very close community. Members of the community must pass a series of tests to advance in the hierarchy of the tribe, each of which can take up to 15 years to achieve. They have a kind of ranking order beginning with a young warrior then a senior warrior, an old warrior, a master warrior – and the elders.
In the old days a young man in the tribe could not be regarded as a man until he had managed to kill a lion with his spear.

An important attribute of the tribe are the ornaments they wear. Men and women spend much time Masai decorating themselves.

Women wear their hair short and prefer precious jewellery: long necklaces, earrings, silver, head bands and bracelets. Male soldiers on the other hand have long hair.

Years ago the Masai owned land in the Serengeti valley, in the vicinity of the Great African fault known as the Rift Velley. In the nineteenth and early twentieth century, they were able to survive and prove to the Europeans, mainly the British and the German colonists their right to inherited land of their ancestors. But unfortunately they have not been able to resist the onslaught of civilization towards the end of twentieth century. Over the past 30 years the Masai have been evicted from much of their land. The rich white tourists coming to Kenya and Tanzania on safari, want "to see wild animals, not the evicted Masai.
Throughout the savannah, camping sites, bungalows and Lodges began to appear and the Masai soon realised that lions, antelopes, gazelles and tourists were more important than themselves. Left without a livelihood, many engaged in poaching.

Masai tribes have coexisted with nature for thousands of years, and now they see themselves frantically begin to destroy it. Their own livestock cannot support them, now elephants and rhinoceros horns are sold on the black market. And now the rhinoceroses in the Maasai lands are nearing extinction and the numbers of elephants have been reduced dramatically.
Today throughout Kenya and Tanzania the Masai are being hired as security guards to work in expensive hotels. Many work to entertain the visitors with traditional dances in hotels and theatres.
Increasingly, you can see people dressed in red clothing complete with shields and spears, guarding the perimeters of many of the new luxury hotels which have sprung up over recent years.
Only in the remote corners of Savannah will you find a few nomadic people whose life still remains in its original form, following the ancient ways of life of the once formidable and very well-known tribe in East Africa - the Masai tribe.

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This article was brought to you by Tom Aroda, courtesy of

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    • profile image

      Shana 7 years ago

      Shana Was Here(:

    • profile image 7 years ago

      They have really cool clothes, I like their style its really different and their cultural things are too!

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      Freshy 7 years ago

      Hi.I am from Kenya and indeed Masai is a well known tribe in East Africa for their culture.Civilisation has caught up with them and many now get an education as well as inter-marrying with other tribes.Your hub has a good account of the Masai.

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      Xxx 8 years ago


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      M. O'Donoghue 8 years ago

      The Maasai are now suffering hugely from the drought in Kenya and Tanzania. Contact the Maasai-association-org (Google) if you want to help.

      Good, informative article - one slight correction: the young warriors now only kill a lion if physically endangered by one.