Who Are the Maasai People? History, Culture & Traditions of the Maasai Tribe

Learn about the Maasai people and their way of life through their culture and traditions.

Deep in the heart of Tanzania near the African Great Lakes region and South Sudan live the Maasai Tribe. They belong to the Nilotic ethnic group of tribes that inhabit the southern, northern and central parts of Kenya.

Known for their culture, their ferocious history, and their brightly colored red robes, the Maasai tribe is the best-known tribe in the area because they live near the nature reserves and parks within the Great African Lakes.

With a population of 800,000 strong, the men are usually seen wearing elaborate red robes while clutching their spears as if they are always prepared for a fight while the women, their heads shaved, wearing handmade white beaded neck adornments.

The Maasai people are originally from the Nile Valley, north of Lake Turkana. In the 15th century, the Maasai Tribe started to move down south and arrived in the 17th and late 18th century in a long stretch of land that is presently known as Central Tanzania and Northern Kenya.

The incoming Maasai displaced the smaller local tribes that were settling there and by the 19th century, the tribe was at its largest size.

By 1904, the Maasai Tribe was cut in half due to many years of famine and disease. Also, most of the Maasai Tribe were evicted from their land when the British arrived and evicted them to make more room for settler ranches. While most of the Maasai resisted, they were easily outmatched by British rifles.

By 1940, the Maasai people were again evicted from nearby Ngorongoro to make room for wildlife reserves and national parks. In the past, the fertile land near Ngorongoro was what the Maasai needed for a living. They are best known for raising cattle; some of them are also known for cattle-rustling. Today, the tribe welcome anyone who wishes to visit their tribe and experience their culture for a fee.

The Tanzanian and Kenyan governments have tried to encourage the Maasai people to leave behind their pastoral ways and adapt to a more modern way of life. However, the Maasai refuse to leave behind their semi-nomadic lifestyle. They are also one of the few tribes whose culture, lore and traditions have survived for hundreds of years.

The Maasai practice living together with nature in harmony. They do not hunt for food and are strongly against eating game and birds. They are also against slavery and welcome anyone who wishes to visit their home.

Outsiders who are looking for people to enslave in the past avoided the Maasai, for they are known as fierce warriors who never back down from a fight. Even until today, the only way for a Maasai boy to be treated and recognized as a proper adult is to kill a lion with only a spear in his hand. The British also have great respect for the Maasai warrior.

Despite their fearsome reputation, the Maasai are very hospitable to strangers. Visitors are always greeted by the Maasai with smiles, singing and jumping. To visit a Maasai village is always a treat.

Today, the Maasai still struggle as Kenya continues to steal land from them for more agricultural land and to give to other growing tribes. There is also the danger of grabbing Maasai land to build wildlife reserves. This is because most of the land that the Maasai tribe live in are also some of the finest game areas for hunters and poachers. The Maasai people defend their territories fiercely and ideas have been pouring out from charitable institutions to employ the Maasai in defending the reserves that are near their territory.

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