Tuesday, October 14, 2008


Back when I lived in Washington, DC, when you met someone you would ask, “Where are you from?” i.e. there were really few DC natives, most people were transplants and this was a way of identifying people. In Cincinnati, people will ask “Where did you go to high school?” Here in Tanzania, people will ask you your tribe - not only in conversation, but also as a question on government forms. On a day to day basis, however, most people see themselves as Tanzanians first, except the Maasai.

The first half of day 4 of our safari (a cultural safari day) was spent visiting a Maasai Boma (village). In an attempt to maintian their tribal identity, the Maasai have chosen to segregate themselves and to live in their traditional culture. They avoid marrying outside of their tribe in the hopes of keeping their population intact and not diluting it with other tribes.

The Maasai are cattle herders and are therefore seminomadic, moving to where there is food and water for their cattle. They build mud and stick huts which they will come back to as the season dictates. The responsibilities of the men are to take care of the cattle and to protect their family. The women's responsibilities are to take care of the children, tend to the home and to make beaded handicrafts. Their source of income is strictly their cattle and their handicrafts.

The Maasai are not farmers and the only food they cultivate is potatoes. Their diet is therefore basically beef and milk. Their clothes are cotton blankets which they wrap around themselves – typically 2 blankets per person. They have lighter ones for hot weather and heavier blankets for colder weather. Their shoes are sandles made out of tires (for durability since they walk long distances) and they wear those year round, regardless of the weather.

Northern Tanzania is Maasai land. The tribe use to live/travel over much of this part of the country. As the country saw the need to segregate land for National Parks, the Maasai were slowly moved off “their land” and onto smaller and smaller parcels (does this sound familiar?) As compensation for their reduced territory, they have been given special rights to take their cattle into the Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area to graze and water their cattle.

In more recent years, the government of Tanzania has required the Maasai to send their children to public school. In preparation for that schooling, the Maasai have a kindergarden in their Boma where they can prepare their children for this schooling. Since public school in Tanzania is taught in Kiswahili (Swahili) and the Maasai speak their own tribal language, they need to teach their children Kiswahili prior to entering school. We visited the kindergarden and were very impressed with the young children who were not only learning Kiswahili but also English basics as well.

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