Posts Tagged ‘visit the Maasai’

40 things to do before you’re 40

Thursday, October 17th, 2013

No. 33 Jump up, jump up, and get down with the Maasai warriors!

How high can you go?

How high can you go?

How does this sound for a movie idea? An American basketball coach (to be played by someone versatile like, say, Kevin Bacon) gets this great idea to go to Africa, convinced that he’s going to find the next Michael Jordan amongst the famous jumping tribesmen of the Maasai – as obviously being able to jump’s all it takes!

Yeah, ok, so ‘The Air up There’ was a howler and the aforementioned actor really should take a good long look at himself for being involved. And forgetting, if we can, that the makers of this film took such a potentially fascinating subject only to render such a frightfully dull story, it’s perhaps no great surprise that the iconic red-robed warriors of the Maasai leapt to Hollywood’s attention, as their traditional way of life, elaborately colourful jewellery and, of course, legendary ‘jump dance’ have captured the imagination of people the world over for decades.

And it is for this way of life, and the Maasai’s ability to maintain these fascinating traditions in the face of governmental pressure to modernise and settle – and not Hollywood’s efforts to caricaturise them – that make visiting the tribes where they live and witnessing their culture one of our top travel experiences to do before you’re 40.

So just who are the Maasai?

The Maasai are a semi-nomadic people (a bit more about that later) who live in the region of the Great Rift Valley on both sides of border of Tanzania and Kenya. The grazing and ownership of livestock is central to the Maasai’s existence as it plays a central role in everything from their economy to social standing and community interaction. The protection of livestock, particularly from predators such as lions, gave rise to the ‘Maasai warrior’, for whom the daunting prospect of hunting a lion is something of a rite of passage. It is important to note that since lion numbers have been in decline, this practice has changed accordingly and policies to compensate lost cattle have also reduced the number of lion hunted by warriors.

And what’s got them jumping up and down?

The sight of the Maasai men, decked out in their bright red robes and leather sandals, leaping straight-legged and incredibly high into the air, as if assisted by a hidden trampoline, is perhaps the most iconic and enduring image of this people. Indeed the ‘adumu’, often called the ‘jumping dance’ is a popular tradition and is performed during a warrior’s ‘coming of age ceremony’. During the dance groups of men will form a circle and one or more will enter the centre and try jump as high as they can and outdo one another, while others voice their appreciation in song.

Though it isn’t all about the men. The Maasai women are also well known for the elaborate jewellery they wear as well as colourful robes, and the chance to show off their huge, colourful neck pieces is an equally important part of the same ceremonies.

Is the sun setting on the Maasai people?

Is the sun setting on the Maasai people?

Why is their lifestyle under threat?

As semi-nomads, although they will build semi-permanent dwellings and even grow crops, they do graze their cattle on a rotational basis over a wide area. Ecologists in the mid twentieth century attributed this to the destruction of sparse resources. Although this view has been convincingly challenged it is one still held by Tanzanian and Kenyan governments who have run programmes to get the Maasai to abandon their traditional lifestyle and settle permanently. This, as well as the introduction of concepts such as private ownership and integration in the outside economy, has hugely altered their traditional way of life, making their future uncertain.

What about visiting the Maasai

With the Maasai way of life under threat, many Maasai tribes today welcome visitors, to share with them the lifestyle that they have practiced for centuries and want to protect. It also helps draw attention to the governments the role the Maasai lifestyle can have in attracting tourism, and as a result and make them more inclined to do more to protect that way of life. So hopefully visiting the Maasai people can be as beneficial to them as it is an interesting and informative experience to us.

Topdeck has a great range of amazing trips to Africa, many of which visit East Africa where you can visit a Maasai tribe and learn more about their unique way of life.