East AfricaKenya

The Maasai Tribe in Kenya’ History, Culture and Clothings


The Maasai Tribe in Kenya, are a Nilotic ethnic group. The Maasai speak the Maa language related to the Dinka, Kalenjin and Nuer languages. The Maasai people occupy the African Great Lakes region and emerge through South Sudan.

History of Maasai Tribe in Kenya

In the late 17th to the early 18th centuries, they started migrating south and were settling in their present homeland between Southern Kenya and Northern Tanzania. This migration resulted in the Maasai being the southernmost speaker in the Nilotic.

Some of the other tribes that previously settled in the region have been displaced, while others have become part of their culture. Their main activities were cattle raising, but the Maasai were also renowned as fearful hunters and guerrillas for centuries.

They used shields and spears, but were most feared for throwing orinka (clubs) which could be expertly thrown from up to 70 paces (approximately 100 meters).

By the mid-19th century, Maasai occupied one of the largest territory, covering almost the whole of today’s Kenya and half of Tanzania.

The darkest time in the history of Maasai people was between 1883 and 1902. In the Maa language it is known as emutai, which means to wipe out.

Up to 60 percent of Maasai people are estimated to have died during this period of smallpox, hunger and animal disease known as rinderpest that killed almost all their animals.

The lands of Maasai in Kenya, from the 1904 Treaty and the subsequent 1911 Treaty, were reduced by 60% when the British dispatched the land into national parks and reserves that converted vast sections of the Maasai lands and confined it to today’s Narok and Kajiado districts.

Maasai also had to leave their fertile lands from the Kilimanjaro and Meru Mountains in the 1940s and most of their fertile mountain regions close to Ngorongoro in Tanzania.

More lands were claimed to establish national parks and wildlife such as Maasai Mara, Samburu, Ngorongoro, Amboseli, Nairobi National Park, Serengeti, Nakuru Lake, Manyara and Tarangire.

The Government also began to push the Maasai to give up their traditional semi-nomadic herd lifestyle for a more sedentary lifestyle and farming purposes.

To date, a large portion of the Maasai population has withstood state pressure to settle in permanent homes, distance themselves from urban areas and continue to live in unaltered lifestyles for centuries.

The Maasai also legitimately requested pasture and pasture rights to several of Tanzania and Kenya’s national parks.

Also Read: Kenya to Open Africa’s 1st Underwater Museum in 2022

The Maasai Tribe in Kenya and Tanzania’ Culture

The Maasai culture is mainly patriarchal with an elder council supervising the village’s daily running and administering matters in accordance with oral law.

Herding of cattle is still Maasai people’s main activity, and livestock are key to their lifestyle. Maasai traditionally uses raw meat, raw blood and milk as the main ingredients.

Maasai shields are fashioned with leather. The number of children and livestock you have measures wealth: A man with many children is considered poor but not a lot of cattle (and vice versa).

The warrior caste, known as il-murran in Maa, is another major part of Maasai culture. A new group of soldiers, chosen from young men between 12 and 25, is initiated every 15 years.

These men are strictly formed and culminate in a series of rites of initiation, the main one being circumcision. It is done with traditional tools without anesthesia: The ability to resist pain is part of the transition to the manhood of young warriors.

Later, they are called Moran and sent to live in a  village (manyatta) built for many months by their mothers during which they became warriors. In their distinctive black clothes and white facial marks you probably will see many Moran along the routes of Kenya and Tanzania that offer money to put on tourist pictures.

The Maasai Tribe in Kenya and Tanzania practice monotheistic belief system. The Godhead is known as Engai and has a dual nature—both kind and vengeful. A laibon, a kind of priest and Shaman, traditionally included in healing, divination and prophecy, is the most important person in the maassai religion. They also have a political role in today’s society, as most laibon belong to the elders council.

The villages in Maasai tend to be multi-faceted. Often men have several women, each of them having their own home, but women must build their own homes every five years because of termites (cradle, cow dung and stroke roofs).

When a woman marries, she not only marries her husband, but also his whole age group. A man was traditionally expecting a visiting male guest to give up his bed. The custom now goes away.

Maasai women’s primary role is to have children who can raise bovine livestock as soon as they can walk. Children are expected to shepherd the cattle of the family (which provides their three main food sources: meat, milk and blood) and to help their mothers to collect firewood, cook and carry out most of the other domestic duties.

Babies are not named until they are three months old because of high infant mortality in the past.

The end of life is almost without a formal funerals ceremony for Masai people as the dead are left in the fields for scavengers. Burials are only reserved for great leaders, as it is belived that burial is harmful to the soil.

Also Read: The 5 Best Safari Parks in Kenya to Explore

Maasai Famous Clothings

The shùkà, a sheet of wear wrapped around the body, is one of the most recognizable pieces of the Maasai’s clothing. The hides of animals were used for cotton until the mid-20th century.

The Maasai Tribe in Kenya' History, Culture and Clothings

Maasai attire varies in color depending on age and sex. Young men will wear black for a couple of months after their circumcision. Elder men usually have red wraparounds, whereas women usually choose to wear pieces of cloth checked, stripped or modeled.

Maasai beadwork is famous for its complexity and Maasai women express their position in society. Before the trade with Europeans started, natural materials like clay, shells and ivory were used.

They were then replaced with colorful glass beads, which enable detailed color patterns and beadwork. The symbols of white are peace, blue is water, and red are warriors’ and courage’s symbols. Bloom is the symbol of peace.

During passage rites like wedding and circumcision, most of the Maasai men and women shave their head. The only people permitted to grow their hair are maasai warriors and usually use it in thin tissues.

They also use stone, wood, and bone to stretch their earlpiece. They usually wear beaded earrings and smaller piercing on the top of the ear on the extended earrings.

Both men and women have traditionally spread their ears because long, extended lobes have been regarded as the emblem of wisdom and respect. This custom, especially among young men, is now disappearing.




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