A highlight of any East African safari – and one of Kenya’s best safari experiences – is a Maasai cultural experience, when you interact with these proud pastoralists in their own environment. They’ve made the Masai Mara their home for centuries, herding their cattle and existing in balance with wild animals. It’s a lesson in harmonious living.
It was a highlight of my trip to Kenya: the chance to engage with locals in their own environment during a Maasai cultural experience. We approached the enclosure on foot. It was surrounded by a fence fashioned from thorny acacia branches to keep predators at bay. Even from a distance, we could clearly make out the figures awaiting us, dressed in their signature red shuka blankets, adorned with beads and carrying long spears. We were warmly greeted by the headman, bearing his a o-rinka – a wooden club.
The Maasai have been custodians of this land for centuries. They have kept the environment intact, living in harmony with their cattle and the incredible wildlife of the Masai Mara. Meeting them on their terms, on their own land, was a dream come true for me.
The Maasai live in semi-permanent huts, which the wives make, in a compound called a manyatta. The headman and some of his family showed us around. The huts were mostly circular with a structural framework of poles interwoven with smaller branches, plastered over with a mixture of mud, grass, cow dung and ash. I took a peek into a darkened interior. In this small space, the family cooked, ate, slept, socialised and stored food, fuel and possessions.
‘We have always lived in harmony with wild animals,’ he said. ‘Our people never liked eating game and birds. Cattle, for us, are everything. That is why our lands have remained so rich in wildlife.’
At the end of our Maasai cultural experience, we had the opportunity to buy handicrafts, especially the beautiful, beaded jewellery made by the wives. Bargaining was expected and the give-and-take banter relished by all.
At sunset on our last evening, Maasai warriors performed in the lodge boma. It was an emotional experience. The olaranyani, or song leader, initiated the melody, then the chorus joined in with intricate harmonies. The singing and dancing continued into the dusk until the sky filled up with stars. Finally, the voices of the singers trailed off into the darkness as they made their way back to the manyatta.