There are approximately 880,000
Maasai spread evenly between Kenya and northern areas of Tanzania ~ Maasai
derives from the word Maa so Maa-sai means 'my people'. Their population
in Kenya currently stands at 840,000, they live a
nomadic or semi-nomadic lifestyle and are perhaps best
known for their distinctive customs and dress.
Maasai lifestyle centres on the herding of cattle and
they have an ancient tradition that God bequeathed to
them all the cattle on earth; a tradition quoted when
caught rustling cattle from other non -Maasai herdsmen!
Given this lifestyle, Maasai boys are expected to be herders from a young age, starting with
looking after the family's lambs and young calves from around the age of five
whilst girls learn domestic skills.
Then at the age of seven, Maasai boys
traditionally have the top of their right earlobe pierced signalling the
taking on of more responsibilities such as looking after older calves and
herding cattle with the rest of the family. The next stage for Maasai
children is the age of sixteen or seventeen when the lower lobes of both ears
are pierced in a ceremony that augurs a new period when they take on sole
responsibility for cattle and moving herds.
Shortly after Maasai boys are
circumcised; a rite of passage that then allows him to decorate himself with olive branches and carry a
quiver. Around this time Maasai girls are dressed in black robes and a leather
decoration is put in her pierced ear lobe.
Living a nomadic lifestyle,
presents challenges for the education of Maasai children and although an increasing number of
them children are eager to attend education, clearly when they are at
school they cannot perform their expected duties. The situation is even
worse for girls as there is a clear expectation that on growing up they will
marry and live with her husband's kin without need for educational skills.
There are, however, programs to
bring education, water and health facilities to the Maasai people and this is
attempted whilst preserving traditional Maasai culture for as one Maasai warrior
put it "A Maasai without culture is as a zebra without stripes. If we abandon
our way of life, our next step could be extinction."