The Masai: Maintaining Culture

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The Masai are a people who are continually trying to preserve their own ways in an increasingly modern world. They live along the border of Kenya and Tanzania, moving their homes from time to time to follow their cattle, the source of their livelihood.

The Masai depend on their cattle for many parts of their life:

  • They drink cow's milk and blood as a sacred drink
  • They use the cows' dung to cover and seal their homes
  • They don't slaughter their cattle for food; but if a cow is killed, then the horns are used for containers; the hides are used to make shoes, clothing, ropes, and bed coverings; and the hooves and bones are made into ornmanets.

The Masai have become known as a tribe of morani, or warriors, protecting their cattle against lions and other predators. Only men are warriors. They wear their hair in long braids, which are dyed with red clay. They can have more than one wife.

The more cattle a man owns, the richer he is considered to be. A man who owns 50 or fewer cattle is considered poor. "Rich" men have a thousand or more. The cattle, though owned by the men, are considered to belong to the man's entire family. The family names the cattle and can recognize each animal's distinct voice.

Women build and take care of the home, fixing food and making clothing. They also make necklaces, dresses, and headdresses out of beads. Women and children keep their heads shaved. Women can also become elders, once they have given birth to four healthy children.

All Masai wear large hoops in their pierced ears. They speak a language called Maa.

Masai houses are made from sticks and grass, which are held together with a mixture of mud and cow dung. These houses are built in a circle and make up an enkang, a Masai village. They are meant to be temporary, since the migration of the cow population means that the Masai move as well.

In the meantime, the Masai also encircle the enkang with a wall of thorn-tree branches, in order to prevent animals from entering. The whole setup is to protect the cattle, which sleep at night in a krall in the middle of the village.

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