For me, travel is all about learning new things and experiencing different cultures. Open mindedness comes from being exposed to situations and ways of life that are completely different from your own. On our recent trip to Kenya we were invited to visit our safari ranger’s village. We quickly accepted and were excited at the opportunity to get an insider look at the Maasai way of life. I’ve always been intrigued by the Maasai people and their long preserved cultural traditions. Traditions that have withstood western influences and education, well, for the most part. I’ll get into that a little later, for now let’s take a look at why there is just a little romance in the wonderful Maasai Mara.
One Wife Is More Than Enough
Prior to our visit to the village we spent hours getting to know Josphat Mako, our ranger, as he shared many stories from his childhood and tribal customs. Along with us on our game drives was a wonderful Canadian couple from Edmonton; Susan and Ron. What are the odds, right?! As Canadians with very progressive views, the cultural differences were very perplexing at times. Polygyny is a common practice amongt the Maasai people and of course both myself and Susan agreed that this was something neither of us could ever agree to. Call us selfish but our husbands are not to be shared. And let’s be honest, they couldn’t handle two “modern” women even if they tried. But for most Maasai men, like Mako, this is the norm.
Too Many Kids To Keep Track
There are a few standard questions that people ask each other when they are first getting to know one another other. For instance, how old the person is, how old their children are or how many siblings they have. Well, good luck getting a straight answer from a Maasai! They typically don’t keep track of age or their offspring. Mako explained that the only reason why he knew how many brothers and sisters he has is because a western friend challenged him to find out. By the way, he’s 1 of 23 children.
Blessing The Village Children
As we drove into the village Mako explained their greeting rituals and taught us a few words in Maa.
“Thank you”: Ashe Oleng
“Good bye”: Sere
The children of the village quickly made their way towards us and waited for each of us to touch their head and say ‘sopa’. They can only shake hands with the elders once they come of age so they are greeted this way for the time being. The young ones believe that they receive a blessing from their elders when they have their heads touched. As we walked along we greeted the elders with a hand shake and ‘sopa’.
Cow Dung And Natural Insect Repellent
Are the materials used to build kraals; Maasai homes. Mako pointed to the green bushes surrounding the village and mentioned that they act as natural insect repellent. Another benefit of using this plant is that termites do not eat it when wet. They also use cow dung to plaster the homes since this stops the water from going inside. The Masaai lead a semi-nomadic life therefore their villages are not permanent. They last at least 8-10 years or up to 15 years if the houses are well built. Each home takes about 2 months to build.
Every woman must have her own house and apparently there is a little competition among the women to have the nicest house for their husbands. When you see a lot of fire wood outside a Maasai house it means that the woman occupying it is pregnant. She does this so that when she gives birth she can relax and feed her child without the stress of having to retrieve fire wood.
Just A Little Romance In The Maasai Mara
The houses are divided into different rooms, one section is where they keep the calves overnight, another is where they keep jugs of water and then there is a sleeping quarter for the man and a separate one for the wife. The sleeping quarter with the bigger bed is for the husband and is usually the most comfortable. And by comfort I don’t mean a king size Tempur-Pedic mattress and pillows; they use cow skins as mattresses.
Mako explained that most Maasai men are not “romantic”. It is very difficult for them to sleep with their wives all night long. For this reason, they meet with their wives to do their “business” and after said “business” they go to their respective bedrooms. Nobody to blame for a bad night’s sleep! Out of all the traditions, this is probably the only one I would adopt.
He then mentioned that he once asked a friend if he had ever kissed his wives and this friend answered: “you mean you kiss your wives?!” to which Mako replied: “Oh yes! Of course, I kiss my wives. When I come back from my work I have to kiss them!” Ever since then his friend never tastes the food that Mako eats because he kissed a woman. Guess we have cooties…
From Boy To Warrior
We learned about the different rites of passage of a Maasai boy. Enkipaata, the first ceremony, where the boys become morans (warriors). Emuratta (circumcision), is performed shortly after puberty, at about ten years old, and is the most important initiation. Mako explained that if the boy blinks or moves his toes during the circumcision he is considered a coward. Keep in mind that there is no anesthesia or pain relief drugs given before or after the procedure. It is important to note that female circumcision has been outlawed by the Kenyan government and the ritual is no longer performed in most tribes. There are several other ceremonies performed to mark the stages in the life of a Maasai but they are slowly disappearing due to outside influences.
Pack For A Purpose
Sustainable travel isn’t something I paid much attention to until now. The more we travel the more I feel a sense of obligation to make a difference and I encourage others to do the same. We are fortunate enough to indulge in luxury vacations and what seems like very little for us can make all the difference for someone else. For this reason we decided to, Pack For A Purpose. This initiative allowed us to donate supplies for schools and help make a difference in the community we visited. We also donated money towards the purchase of beads during our village visit and bought artifacts and jewelry made by the Maasai women. They use the beads to make jewelry which helps pay for their children’s education, clothing and food.
An iPhone, Facebook And A Trip To The USA
Western influences are slowly making their way into the Maasai way of life. Mako and Kitipa, our spotter, both have iPhones and a Facebook account. You can visit Mako’s account here and Kitipa’s here. Despite being tuned into social media it was quite funny to see the reaction when I showed them my dog’s Instagram account. The looks of confusion on their faces was priceless. They don’t feed their dogs or wash them so the idea of loving your pet like you would a family member is a very foreign notion. Mako has traveled to the United States to promote Kenyan tourism and Cottar’s 1920s Camp. When asked if he enjoyed his visit he said he wouldn’t be able to live “like that”.
Goodbye For Now
Despite all our cultural differences we truly enjoyed our time together. There is so much to learn about the Maasai and I know this will not be our last visit to Kenya. A country with abundant wildlife, rich in culture and steeped in traditions. I can’t get enough of this place and the people!
Do you have any stories to share from your travels where you encountered people with very different ways of life? I’d love to hear about it!
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