Maasai

The waistbelt of a modern Maasai warrior/ranger includes a wooden club, a machete, and a cellphone. Enashiva reserve, Tanzania.

The waistbelt of a modern Maasai warrior/ranger includes a wooden club, a machete, and a cellphone. Enashiva reserve, Tanzania.

Day 9 was an opportunity to experience a tiny slice of the local culture, at least, of the Maasai culture. We started with an early-morning walk, before breakfast, strolling through the nearby meadows to see wildlife during this particularly active time of day.  I was particularly interested in our Maasai guide, one of the rangers hired by Thomson to patrol the reserve.  On his waistband he wore two items traditional for every Maasai warrior – a wooden club and a large machete-like knife, along with a cellphone. The old meets the new; the three essentials of any warrior strolling the hills of Maasai country!  The knife has many practical uses, of course, and the cellphone provides connectivity even in these remote locations. The wooden club was a bit of a mystery; it had a natural bulb-shaped head, a burl or knot selected carefully from just the right stick.  The shaft was whittled to a point.  He explained that this club was important for self-defense, during his patrols, if he needed to protect himself he could swing or throw the club at an animal.

John high-fives young schoolchildren at Community school near Enashiva reserve, Tanzania.

John high-fives young schoolchildren at Community school near Enashiva reserve, Tanzania.

We drove out to visit the school and the clinic. As we arrived on the playground, kindergartners swarmed around us to say hello and shake our hands; they were curious about our cameras, our hair styles, our sunglasses. We met with one of the head teachers, and with her seventh-grade class.  (Tanzania requires all children to attend school through seventh grade, and indeed fines parents whose childrens do not attend school.) The children sang for us, and shared with us their favorite school subjects and asked questions about us. We all then went out to the playground to play “netball”, which is a bit like a cross between rugby and basketball. Two teams run back and forth and try to put the ball through a hoop at either end of the court; the ball is not bounced, or carried, but passed from teammate to teammate. Mixed teams were formed among our group and the seventh graders, drawing many curious looks from adult passers-by as we played.

Pam and Doe visited the brand-new health clinic, across the street, also built by Thomson in support of the local community.  A small group of villagers had gathered outside to wait for a chance to meet the new doctor.

Storyteller at Enashiva reserve, Tanzania.

Storyteller at Enashiva reserve, Tanzania.

We returned to the nyumba, where we had a chance to meet one of the elder women of the local village.  She told us two traditional stories, through a translator; one, as I recall, was a story about a hyena and a lion, in which the hyena must learn a lesson about trustworthiness.

In late afternoon we headed out again, this time to make a surprise visit to one of the nearby boma. Each boma is a cluster of homes, all part of one family.  Indeed, if I understand correctly, each boma is constructed for the man of the family and each hut in the boma is for one of his wives.  As we pulled up, our Maasai guide and translator, a member of the local village hired by Thomson to assist with these visits, was surprised by the large number of villagers present.

Woman at a Maasai boma near Enashiva, Tanzania.

Woman at a Maasai boma near Enashiva, Tanzania.

Clearly something was underway. He quickly learned that today was a day of celebration for this boma, as one of the teeneage boys had been circumcised that morning as part of his manhood ritual. A cause for celebration, drawing friends and relatives from bomas near and far, a group of young warrior boys were dancing in one part of the clearing to celebrate the addition of another warrior to the village. A group of women, young and old, had gathered near the home where the circumcised boy was resting; they were celebrating with the mother of the boy. They sang their own song, and danced their own dance; some of the women in our group joined in (much to the great amusement of the village women).  One of the elder women took it upon herself to train Mara, Isabel, and Elise (a girl of the same age from another small Thomson group staying at the nyumba) how to do this dance. With smiles as the only shared language, the happiness of the day was infectious. These people were so welcoming, so happy to have us join their celebration, so pleased to show us their home (even the dark interior of the windowless mud huts, shared by goats and sheep as well as adults and children). We felt honored to have shared in their day of celebration.

More in the next post!  and don’t miss the full photo collection.

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About dfkotz

David Kotz is an outdoor enthusiast, traveller, and father of three. He is also a Professor of Computer Science at Dartmouth College.
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