A Brief Visit to a Masai Village

The day we were to enter the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania, we first made a stop outside of the park at a Masai village.  My image of the Masai before this visit was of tall, lean men wearing blue or red clothes holding a cane-like piece of wood.  I knew they were a nomadic people and that they lived generally in both sides of the border between Kenya and Tanzania.  However, that was the extent of my knowledge about them.

Visiting a Masai village is not the only time you can see the Masai as you see them in small towns as you traverse this part of Tanzania and as they may work in some of the places you may stay.  You will also see them herding their cattle to take them to get water (like the ones we saw heading into the Ngorongoro Crater).

When we were taken to their village, I was not sure what was in it for them.  I understood they lived off their cows and didn’t have many possessions since they are nomadic so I didn’t quite get it.  I was not aware that some do make the best of the tourism in the area by making crafts to sell to visitors.  Basically we were taken to their village so we could get a glimpse into their lives in return for the potential purchases we would make from their inventory of crafts.  I am used to tours (big or small) always taking visitors to places for shopping and sometimes I can find that tedious (even if I need to buy some souvenirs).  This time, I somehow did not mind.

Crafts for sale at a Masai village in Tanzania

Some of the crafts

First, they welcomed us with some chanting and by placing ornaments around the necks of the female visitors.  They also proceeded to show how high they can jump and got one of our guys to try jumping higher than them – nope, could not do it!

Masai welcome at their village in Tanzania

The group welcoming us to their village

Masai women welcoming us to their village in Tanzania

Women greeting us

I found the short glimpse we got into their lifestyle very interesting.  We were divided into smaller groups so we could each visit the small home of the Masai and there talk a little bit about how they live.  The warrior into whose house we went offered good information and was generous in answering our questions.

Exterior of a Masai warrior's hut in Tanzania

Exterior of a Masai hut

Interior of a Masai village hut

Our host and some visitors at one of his wives’ hut

Among the things our warrior shared with us:

  • things are communal; they make crafts and the sales go to the entire group
  • they are polygamous
  • since their huts are so small, the house in which the warrior sleeps at night, any kids older than 4-5 get sent to another wife’s hut
  • the warriors’ job is the safety of the group; women have a long list of things they are responsible for like building the huts, cooking, fetching water, minding the children, etc.
  • some warriors get an education in a village or town so they can, for example, speak English and welcome tourists to their villages
  • life centers around the cattle on whose milk and blood they depend
  • they move every 2-3 months to a new place (where there is more grass for their cattle)
  • when someone dies, they leave the body out in the open to be nourishment for animals; they leave some marker so people know not to build their camp there; supposedly, a few months need to pass before the area can be used again
  • they live typically into their 100s (he also told us they don’t have illnesses).

After chatting with the warrior and checking out the crafts (and making purchases), we stopped at the tiny schoolhouse for their group.  The kids were into showing they could read the words on the blackboard!

School building at a Masai village in Tanzania

School building

Kids at a Masai school in Tanzania

The kids at school

I left with admiration for a people who seem to strike a workable balance between living according to their traditions while dealing with some of modern life with common sense (like taking advantage of the opportunity that visitors can provide in terms of extra income for the group).  We gladly perused their crafts and, while certainly not offered very cheaply, we were happy with negotiating some but not as much as we had done in other settings.

Masai women with the containers to store cow's milk and blood

Masai women with the containers to store cow’s milk and blood

Curious what else others know about the Masai.  Leave a comment and share!

Comments

  1. Wow!… We stopped at that exact same Masai village! I’m still working on sorting my photos from that day (and hopefully an eventual blog post), but this is definitely the same school:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/ryan_roxx/8585197138/in/photostream
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/ryan_roxx/8585193674/in/photostream/

    It looks like our recent trips mirrored each other quite closely.
    Ryan recently posted..Conquering KilimanjaroMy Profile

    • @Ryan, that is too funny! We did the same trip, apparently, just 2 weeks apart from each other! Can’t wait to read your post on the village.

  2. These photos are amazing, I hope to one day visit a Masai Village. I love that you got to talk to them and see the children in the school. I had an experience similar to this in Fiji, but my time in Namibia with the Himba tribe was very different. This looks like a very positive experience, I’m glad. :)
    The World Wanderer recently posted..Music Monday: Tacata’My Profile

  3. So cool, it’s like something out of the Trevel Channel. This looks like a great cultural experience to take partake in.
    Kieu ~ GQ trippin recently posted..Full Moon Party in ThailandMy Profile

  4. wow, how different it is. When I think of my school.. heartbreaking
    @mrsoaroundworld recently posted..A year older in the Maldives with @KuoniTravelUKMy Profile

  5. What a fantastic cultural experience, Raul. And the photos are fantastic.
    Leah Travels recently posted..Paris Feels like HomeMy Profile

  6. Awesome experience man…nothing better than connecting with the people of a destination, be it in Tanzania or Tasmania:)
    D.J. – The World of Deej recently posted..Kiawah Island – Beyond the GolfMy Profile

  7. it is great to see the combination of tradition and present day opportunities they created for themselves! really interesting to hear from the warrior about the basic things about the Masai! awesome cultural experience!
    lola recently posted..It’s Spring Break Season!My Profile

    • @Lola @DJ, yes, I was not aware we were going to visit a Masai village and, despite the fact that it was like a shopping stop, it did provide a glimpse into the real way of life so well worth it

  8. I couldn’t help but chuckle when I got to this line: “…balance between living according to their traditions while dealing with some of modern life…” It made me think of when I was in Tanzania and we passed a Masai man on the road. He was in the traditional dress, minding the cattle…. and talking on a mobile phone. Talk about balancing traditions with modern life!
    Francesca (@WorkMomTravels) recently posted..Explaining my absence (including an announcement!)My Profile

    • @Francesca, yes, the modern world has definitely made it to just about every corner of Tanzania! I went there 6 yrs ago and it has definitely changed!

  9. what an amazing experience, raul! love the photo of the school.
    thelazytravelers recently posted..no travel requiredMy Profile

    • Thanks, Lazy Travelers! Funny how the best pix happen sometimes… I had walked out of the village to find a properly far spot to relieve myself (TMI?). As I turned around and started walking back, I noticed the school from that angle. So I just walked up closer and snapped the photo. I love the color of the trekker’s shirt adding different color to the scene!

  10. I read a fantastic book once called Masai dreaming. It was not actually about the Masai, but part of the book took place in one of their villages. Ever since I read that great book, I have been interested in their culture. Thanks for a first hand look into their lives.
    Traveling Ted recently posted..Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie surprising beautyMy Profile

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