On a recent trip to Kenya with Holden Safaris, I was fortunate to visit a Maasai manyatta (village) with our driver guide, James, a Maasai chief, who took us to his own village. Here we experienced an authentic Maasai village without the commercial aspects.
As we stepped out of our jeep, James, our Maasai guide, greeted the men from his village adorned in their red-checked blankets, and chunky, bright, beaded necklaces, bracelets and earrings. At first, the young male warriors started their “jumping dance” ritual. Do you know why they do this? If so, I’d love to read your answer in the comments section below.
The women stood in line, facing forward, and I was asked to join them and clap my hands as they sang and we all swayed to the rhythm of their music.
At the end of our performance, I had the honor of receiving a wedding necklace, like the one below, offered by the matriarch of the village.
The matriarch led me to one of the mud huts, and I kept wondering how I would make it to her narrow- arched entryway without stepping into the numerous mounds of cow dung.
I could barely see inside the hut, despite it being early afternoon. A small porthole allowed a smidgen of ventilation and light to enter the kitchen area. I imagined the entire hut with clouds of white smoke as they would light a fire to cook their meals. The “mattresses” were made of long, skinny sticks and a thin blanket on top. There was no privacy, and James informed us that families are divided with teenagers in one room and young children in another, all sleeping on a “mattress”. Only the mud walls and open doorways separated the rooms. James pointed to another space, this one even smaller than the three bedrooms, and said, “This is where they keep their three calves at night so they don’t get stolen.”
I was shocked that nothing much had changed since I visited a Masai village in 1996, so I researched some facts and read:
“The majority of Maasai women in Kenya are destined to live a life of poverty and cultural oppression. Just one generation ago, less than 20 percent of Maasai women in Kenya enrolled in school. Today, even with free primary school education in Kenya since January 2003, only 48 percent of Maasai girls enroll in school, and only 10 percent of girls make it to secondary school.” According to a non-profit called The Maasai Girls Education Fund.
There are economic, cultural and physical barriers that prevent Maasai girls from receiving an education:
- Economic incentives for early marriage, such as cattle and cash dowries
- The belief that the biological family does not benefit from educating a daughter, since the girl becomes a member of her husband’s family when she marries, and they will reap the benefits
- Family and peer pressure for early marriage, as women are valued by the number of children they have
- Fear of early pregnancy, which is a disgrace prior to marriage and lowers the bride price, which perpetuates the practice of early marriage,
- The distances that a girl must walk to the nearest school make it unsafe, and even impossible for a nursery-school-age child. (According to the Maasai Girls Education Fund.)
This September 30th- October 7th, I’m leading a trip called, “Women Travel with a Purpose,” which will also include a visit to the same Maasai village with James. I hope you will want to join us on this exciting and educational adventure to Kenya.
We have designed a special Safari that includes learning and making a difference. Part of the proceeds will benefit the African Child Foundation. Please check out all our daily activities by clicking on the following link below.
Not only are we interacting with orphans in a school in Nairobi, but we’re also visiting the Maasai women and children, and learning more about their village life.
Please contact me if you would like more information about this and other Safaris. We are almost full, but plan to run this trip again in 2019.
Sonia Marsh-Safari Consultant and Blogger for Holden Safaris.