Facts about the People & Culture of Masaai in Kenya
The Masaai (Masai) people are one of the top highlights for safaris in Kenya. The Masaai are basically Nilotic ethnic group who are semi-nomadic, pastoral indigenous tribe whose ancestral territory stretches across southern Kenya and northern Tanzania.
The Masaai are the most known Kenyan tribe outside Kenya, especially by many travelers, since the reside near many game parks of the African Great Lakes.
The Masaai are also associated with Tanzania’s Ngorongoro Crater and are believed to have lived in the area for over 150 years thus the main residents.
The Masaai people speak the “Maa” language that is a member of the Nilotic Language family and related to the Dinka, Kalenjin and the Nuer languages. A part from the few who live in the villages, the Masaai people predominantly assimilated the national language of Kenya, Swahili, and to a lesser extent English.
As for the 2019 census, the Masaai population had risen to 1,189,522 compared to the 1989 census where their numbers were 377,089.
The Masaai people in Kenya are remarkably hospitable and welcoming, this has seen much interest in their culture with more tourists gaining interest in their cultural experience, where the travelers interact with them, participate in their traditions, and lifestyle in return for a fee.
What is the culture of the Masaai?
The Masaai worship a single deity called Enkai on Engai with a dual nature; Engai Narok is benevolent and Engai Nanyokie is vegeful. The Masai society also has two pillars of totems that is the Oodo Mongi, the red cow and the Orok kiteng, the black cow.
The elder Maasai men are sometimes joined by retired elders, determining most major matters for the Maasai tribes. For Maasai people living a traditional way of life, the end of life is virtually without a formal funeral ceremony, and the dead are left out in the fields for scavengers. Burial in the past has been reserved for great chiefs only, since it is believed by the Maasai that burial is harmful to the soil.
The primary source of food to the Masaai is their cattle. The Masaai also believe that the rain God Ngai entrusted the cattle to them when the earth and the sky split, and in their society, cattle is a primary measure of wealth. The Masaai also believe that a man who has plenty of cattle but not many children is considered to be poor and vice versa.
– The Masaai people use readily available materials and indigenous technology to construct their shelters that are unusual and interesting houses. The Masaai people are pastoralist and thus their houses are designed basically for people on move and their houses are very impermanent in nature. The Masaai houses are either circular or loaf – shaped and are basically constructed by the women.
The Masai village is usually enveloped by a protective Enkang fence built by the men and protects their cattle from the wild animals during the night.
The Maasai people are monotheistic, and their God is named Engai or Enkai, a God who is mostly benevolent and who manifests himself in the form of different colors, according to the feelings he is experiencing. Said colors have precise meanings: black and dark blue mean that the God is well-disposed towards men, red on the other hand is identified with God’s irritation.
Enkai manifests in two forms which are Enkai- Narok, the black God, good and benevolent who is believed to bring prosperity and brings grass for cattle. Enkai-na-Nyokie, the Red God, vegeful, who brings famine and hunger he is found in the lightning that is identified in dry seasons. The Masaai have however assimilated Christianity in the last years and most of them are Christians today.
Masaai Music and dance
The Masaai people’s music and dance is interesting to watch. Apart from the large horns used in certain songs, the Masaai do not often use instruments while doing their music.
Much of the Masaai music is made of vocalists, the music is comprises of rhythms rendered by a chorus that is sang by the vocalists and the olaranyan is usually a person who can sing the song best, he/she spear heads and sings the melody. In The Masaai, when olaranyani starts singing a line or title (namba) of a song, the group responds with one unanimous call in acknowledgment.
The beads that both the men and women wear also create a jingling sound themselves while the Masai jump and dance. Women recite lullabies, hum songs and sing music that praises their sons.
The Masaai Hair
Both the women and men shave their heads during the seasons of celebrating right passage such as circumcision and marriage. The Masai believe that by doing this, a fresh start that will be made as one passes from one to another. However the Masaai warriors are allowed to wear long hair which weaved from thinly braided strands. The Masai children’s heads are shaved clean. The young boys are also shaved two days before circumcision.