Traditions Field Note: The Maasai

Hi class! How are you doing this week? I’m starting to feel a little sad because my time in Tanzania is almost over! I am excited for the summer, though. I bet you are, too.


This week want to tell you about the Maasai tribe of East Africa and some of their traditions. I think you will be interested in the Maasai because they are a unique, or one-of-a-kind, group of people. Over time, many tribes in East Africa have stopped doing their own traditions. Many have adopted traditions like we have in the United States or Europe. The Maasai are different because they have tried hard to keep their own traditions.


Ms. Fourie tells me you have been learning about some tribes in South Africa. I’ll be excited to hear about how they compare to the Maasai!


What traditions does the community have?


The Maasai have many traditions but they are famous for a few that I would like to share with you. First, it is an important Maasai tradition to raise cattle. Cows are a main source of food, wealth, and pride for all Maasai communities.


The Maasai people live in parts of Kenya and Northern Tanzania. In this region they are nomadic. That means they move around a lot. The Maasai are nomadic because they need to find new grazing lands for their cattle to eat. When I went to visit a Maasai community, I saw many Maasai men walking with groups of between 15 and 30 cows.


It’s always easy to spot a Maasai because of their traditional dress. Maasai wear what they call a shuka. A shuka is a piece of fabric that is draped around the shoulders. Maasai shukas are almost always red but sometimes they might be blue or a plaid pattern.


The Maasai are also famous for their body ornaments. Many men and women wear amazing jewelry and have many piercings. It is also popular to have body painting, too. Make sure you look at the pictures I have of some Maasai jewelry. It is truly beautiful!


Finally, one of my favorite Maasai traditions is Maasai dance. When I first saw a group of Maasai perform I was so impressed! It’s nothing like how we dance in the United States. During the dance I saw, the Maasai made deep noises in the back of their throats. It’s hard for me to explain the noise but it’s almost like a grunt. They danced to these rhythmic noises by jumping and running around. I wish you could have seen how high they jumped!






What tradition did I learn about?


I was surprised to learn it is an old Maasai tradition for boys to kill lions! The Maasai do not perform this tradition anymore, but it is still talked about a lot.


Killing a lion used to be considered a rite of passage. Have you heard of this before? A rite of passage is something you’re supposed to do during your lifetime. In a lot of communities someone completes a rite of passage in order to be considered an adult.


By killing a lion, a Maasai boy could prove that he was brave and truly a man. The Maasai used to kill lions with spears and special clubs. Could you imagine having to do something like that on your next birthday?


Why does the community have this tradition?


Killing a lion used to be an important way for boys to show the tribe that they were men. This is important because traditionally Maasai communities are patriarchal. This means that men have a lot of power. A group of older men, called elders, usually make all the decisions for the entire tribe.


As boys and girls grow up it is traditional for them to be grouped into age sets. Girls or boys in an age set are around the same age. Age sets are important to the Maasai. If you are in the same age set with someone, they are considered to be close family to you, almost like a brother or sister.


When Maasai boys reach a certain age they are called warriors. The warriors don’t really fight but can be seen taking care of cattle or just walking through Maasai lands. Common traditional activities for girls include taking care of children, cooking, and beadwork!


Is this tradition connected to its environment? How?


The Maasai tradition of killing a lion is strongly connected to the environment. In fact, the killing of lions stopped because the number of lions was becoming too small. While some Maasai still kill lions if they threaten cattle, most tribes have stopped the practice.


Many other Maasai traditions are connected to the environment, too. For example, the tradition of cattle herding is how the Maasai decide where to live next. Cattle herding even affects how the Maasai build their houses. Traditional Maasai houses are made out of local materials and are not meant to last that long. Houses do not last long because the Maasai know they will need to take them down and move with their cows in a short time.


It was neat to see a small Maasai village. All of the houses were little and in a neat circle. The Maasai build their houses in a circle so that they can keep their animals in the middle. By keeping their animals here they will stay together and be protected from other animals who might try to kill them.


What do you all think? I had a great time visiting the Maasai village. Do you think you would like to if you could? How are the Maasai different or similar to the tribes you have been learning about? I won’t forget to ask for your answer next time we video chat!

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