Do you remember that ‘80s film, The Gods Must Be Crazy, where the strange object falls out of the sky, and at first they think it is a present from the gods, only to realise that it brought more harm than good?
It was this film and one called, Cheetah, which introduced me to African culture: food, language, music, scenery and people. As a kid, I watched a lot of films set in ancient times, so when I arrived in Rome and laid my eyes on the old city, I felt like I was reliving an old film and had to pinch myself. Although The Gods Must be Crazy was set elsewhere, visiting the Masai Mara village and travelling through Kenya brought me back to my childhood and my vivid imaginations of Africa.
Just over a week ago I was picked up by my driver, Michael, who seemed like a very cheery fellow. With a big smile, he introduced me to Anna, Fuji and Miki, who would be my family for the next couple of days. Five minutes from the orphanage, our matatu (a small van which is the primary mode of transport in Kenya) conked out. Michael began revving the engine attempting to start the motor. I thought to myself, Will we make the six hour drive to Masai Mara? We began the first of our 4WD trip, crossing the highway up a steep slope to get to the petrol station.
After his second attempt at finding a petrol station with petrol and replenishing the tank, then dropping off the receptionist of his tour company back at work (who climbed into the matatu at petrol station two), then stopping to place the tour company’s signage, Pegas Tours, on the front and back of the matatu, we were FINALLY on our way.
Now to go into explicit detail about my Safari trip may be more painful for you as a reader, than for me to remember and articulate each moment! And some experiences are better left unsaid. So thoughtfully I have spared you. There were many moments which made me laugh, shake my head in amusement and send shivers down my spine. My scariest moment was watching a fight between a tour guide, who hit a Masai’s sheep, and a Masai get resolved with 4,000 shillings and a knock on the head with a club (thankfully the large knife wasn’t used). We (the tourists) sat in the matatu trying to decide what we would do if it got really nasty. Thankfully the Masai, although angry he didn’t get 10,000, listened to his mates who were attempting to calm him down.
So I will summarise with a list of facts given by the Masai tribe.
After payment of 1,000 shillings ($14 approximately), we were invited to enter the village and meet the locals. The men welcomed us with a traditional dance and taught us how to start a fire. After spitting into my palms and rubbing the stick furiously, I accepted that lighting fires this way was something I had to work on.
William, was a lovely young Masai, who was eager to chat and talk about his culture. This is what I learned:
- The tribe lives in a large circular area with 25 families.
- The families are all related, descendants from one grandfather.
- They cannot marry within their village and find brides within the communities.
- Men can have more than one wife (his father has five).
- Each family has their own entry point or alleyway into the village close to their hut.
- The first wife keeps to the right when walking through the alleyway, the second wife and so on remain on the left.
- The women cook, fetch firewood and water, tend to children, build the huts and make jewellery to sell.
- The men hunt, tend to flocks, provide for their family and design the huts.
- The huts are built from mud, dung or local materials.
- The red cloth the Masai wear represents the different family groups.
- The Masai bring their animals into the centre of the village. The alleyways are blocked up overnight for protection.
- Children go to school nearby and are supported with money from tourists.
- To be initiated to manhood a group of boys go away for 5 years with the elders, where they learn to throw a spear and hunt. Then after five years, they hunt a lion. Whoever throws the first spear and kills the lion is entitled to the head. He makes a necklace from the teeth. This necklace is used to get a free bride, so no dowry is used.
- The oldest son is expected to remain in the village to continue the tradition.
- Masais’ main diet is blood, milk, meat and sometimes maize.
William was also excited to talk about his learning. He never went to school but learned mathematics and taught himself to read and write by watching others. After some math quizzes, William asked me if I have Facebook or Whatsapp messenger. It was hilarious to see him pull out a mobile from under his red dress, and give me his details.
Hope you learned something new!
Good night x