Kenya, the Maasai Land - Kavita Kumble

It has been two weeks since I got back from Kenya and I am still nursing the bad flu that I contracted after I got back to India. All the vaccinations which I took before this trip did not work on the strong ‘Flu Bug’ back here I guess. I am still sniffing between tissues and coughing all badly with hubby grumping back there. I wanted to write long back, however, with each part of my body muscle screaming out in pain, I could not spurt out my thoughts. It was one whirlwind trip absolutely for about a week and I guess we drove close to 1500 kilometres all around Kenya. Those roads will definitely test how strong your spine is and if you have endured that and come back stable, you can consider yourself fit enough. It was me along with three of my friends who love travel as much as I do. There was a blogger couple that I met in my Antarctica adventure last year and my photographer travel buddy who is always part of my most journeys. All we did was discover Kenya in our own very distinct way and did not try to get into anyone else’s space.

I had to steal some time away from the scheduled stops and typical tourist visits for some ‘Me’ time. I really detest everything ‘touristy’ and look for ways to connect to the places I go in my own way. So every time I decided to skip that safari drive, my driver would blurt out ‘Kavita is very lazy’!

We had the most eccentric driver ‘Patrick’ to start with for our adventurous journey. He made me feel that all the drivers back home were far more well behaved and mannered in every sense. So almost every day, he loved ragging me and I, in turn, would return it with added love and liners. However, let me keep him aside for this post or else it can go into pages for sure.

Africa is about wildlife and about the Savana Land. One can write about the Sleepy Lions, Grazing Elephants, Sober Zebras, the real Tall Giraffes that you encounter but I am keener to let you know about the much popular Maasai tribe. They are an interesting lot and to my opinion also a dwindling ethnic one. I was told that they live a very simple life and do not have many needs. However, what struck me was the tribe wanted us to give them money for a visit to their village and to know about their culture. The explanation we got was it was for the welfare of their children’s education. I am sure for them to survive in those harsh conditions with scarce water and vegetation, this must be one of the means.

So who are these Maasai? Why are they extraordinary people and with an extraordinary culture?

They have lived for hundreds of years now in areas around Kenya and Tanzania with their precious cattle that graze in both countries even today. They have a very strong culture that they are trying very hard to hold on to even today, though the government of these countries are not encouraging them to do so. Some of their customs are controversial and unique in nature but theirs is a very human one.

There are over a million of them. Yes, you read that correctly. The most recent records say that there are 841,622 of them in Kenya and 430,000 in Tanzania. When their numbers were much smaller, they are thought to have travelled down from the Nile Valley.

Some of the Maasais we met also spoke very good English, better than some of the subordinates I know at work. I was quite amazed to hear them talk so distinctly with great pronunciation and diction. Moreover, most of these have not even learned in schools but from the tourists who visit them and speak to.

What is the native language they talk originally? Their language is called ‘Maa’.

It is spoken but not generally written. The oral language is so strong that the need for a written one did not surface at all. The most prized possession that they have are cows. They treasure them the utmost and are used to barter them with other tribes for all deals. Even marriages are mostly negotiated with cows with the girl’s family getting cows from the prospective groom for matrimony. They practice polygamy and men can marry as many times, but the women of the tribe can only marry once. Each wife is entitled to one house though the men can have as many houses. The parents mostly select the first wife. However, the first wife selects the second wife and so on.

Each of these women bears 10 to 12 kids in their lifetime too. They looked so strong and I guess it is because of their diets. They eat meat mostly which they hunt for as there is far less possibility of having any vegetables or fruits. They also drink raw milk with cow’s blood in it. This blood is carefully drawn from a vein of the cow without having to kill it and then the vein is sealed with cow dung to heal it back. They say that this gives them lots of energy. They rarely eat cow meat and is only cooked for some rituals.

They do hunt lions and not just for fun but for meat. Female lionesses are spared from hunting and only male ones are targeted. Going solo for the hunt is considered a sign of great courage in the tribe. But now as the lion’s population is also dwindling, they have formed a rule that it will be done only occasionally in groups.

As we were looking into their huts, it was the soberest house that I saw. The house was layered by cow dung to keep it cool and there was minimal space. The kitchen had a few vessels and a fireplace to cook. These houses had a small bed and it housed the man, woman and their six kids apparently. The village women build these houses and they are in charge of keeping the upkeep of the same.

Since they are nomads, they live in one place for around 5 years and then move to another location.

One of the things that I enjoyed the most by visiting these tribes was the kids. Though we had absolutely no conversations (as they spoke no English), we had a great time sitting with them and helping them draw and colour with the books we got for them from India. Most of their noses were running and they looked unkempt but they were adorable and looked happy.

We ended our day by going over the handmade artefacts they had for sale. These stalls are well set in the village. Do buy some of their goods instead of buying from other big stores as here, they are better priced and you can bargain.

They have lived here for centuries now and seeing them up and close makes you feel like the rest of the world is unreal.

These tribes are one of the most amazing things you can experience in Kenya. So do take that time out from your game drives to spend some valuable time with them.

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