The Masai are an indigenous ethnic group of semi-nomadic people living in northern Tanzania and Kenya, and they are the only group allowed free travel over the border. The Masai reside near many game parks and their dress is very distinctive. Consequently, they are probably the most well-known African ethnic group in the world.
Masai culture is intricate and fascinating. Roles are determined by age, wealth and position in the community. Men are warriors and herders, and cattle play a central role in their lives. The more cattle, the wealthier the warrior and his wealth then enables him to take multiple wives. Herds are large and warriors constantly wander on the mountain and surrounding plains seeking pasture for their animals – often camping out.
Masai families live in small traditional bomas which the women make from mud, sticks, grass and cow dung. Bomas are scattered over the area and are just large enough for sleeping and cooking. Women leave them at dawn each day to fetch firewood and water. Children spend their days playing around the boma and are taught to tend livestock while still very young. To help them grow strong, children are given a mixture of cow’s milk, blood and urine.
Women create wonderful and colourful beaded jewellery for body ornamentation. It is worn by all Masai people with patterns determined by age. It is a symbol of their culture all over the world. Young men often smear their bodies with ochre and can spend hours working on ornate hairstyles which are ritually shaved as they pass into the next age.
A most important person in Masai culture is the medicine man. The nomadic healers move between villages and as well as providing remedies for the sick or injured, they make predictions.
If your safari includes the Serengeti you will stop to visit a Masai boma on your way.