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The Maasai People

When you travel to Tanzania, you hear mostly about the animals, safari days and incredible guides who stick with you along the way. You don’t expect to encounter a rich and vibrant culture of the Tanzanian people let along the Maasai tribes. They are such an integral part of anyone's experience of Tanzania, I think that it is vital to learn more about them. Wherever you are driving outside of the national parks, you will see cattle and a Maasai wearing long robes, carrying a stick.

Our Maasai guide, Lemra, holding up the horns of a wildebeest.
Our Maasai guide, Lemra, holding up the horns of a wildebeest. (Franny Friesz)

We were so lucky to have a Maasai guide and experience the life of his tribe while at Lake Natron. Lemra was a sweet and bright man. He was eager to show us everything we wanted to learn about the area and welcomed questions about the Maasai people and their lifestyle. We walked with him from our camp to Lake Natron (about six miles round trip) and spoke about the history of his tribe, culture, his life story and family. He explained that he had just been elected chairman and was so proud to lead his tribe in this day and age. Lemra spoke about the challenges he faced with making sure each member had an education, yet still embraced their way of life and were able to care for their cattle. The sheep, goats and cows owned by the Maasai represents their currency. The bigger the herds, the bigger their family needs to be. Some men take multiple wives so they can grow a family big enough to help maintain their livestock. Lemra has a difficult position to find a way to bring education to his people without stripping them of their culture. 

Lovely Maasai ladies showing us their handmade items for sale.
Lovely Maasai ladies showing us their handmade items for sale. (Franny Friesz)

When we entered the village early in the morning, the women of the village greeted us with a song and dance. I was encouraged to join and did my best to sing along and dance with these beautiful women. We had the opportunity to try and milk a cow which was very comical. I’m sure it was just as fun for them as it was for us. Another humbling task I embraced was helping a woman repair her house. The outside had crumbled away in the recent heavy rains. She had a fresh load of new siding which consisted of cow dung and urine mixed together. I rolled up my sleeves, took a big handful and started slapping it on her house. I helped her for about five minutes which didn’t seem long, but our guide, Lemra, was astonished. He said I was the very first to ever help with this task. Most other tourists are too afraid to get their hands in poop. Not to say it didn’t make me nervous - I did wash my hands many times afterwards - but what a humbling and sweet thing to do with the woman responsible to maintain the upkeep of her home. It surprised me how much I loved seeing first hand the day-to-day life of that tribe. Lemra said they are a poor people, but I think that’s only when it comes to money. They seemed a very rich people indeed. Rich in culture, joy, family and skills that many of us have lost over the years. They depend on their animals, each other and the land. A part of me envied them and the beautiful lives they lead.

After the rains, their house needed patching up.
After the rains, their house needed patching up. (Franny Friesz)


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