The Masai people: life, culture and traditions of the "children of the Savannah"

byVerónica Crocitti
Where do they live, how do they dress, what are the rites, dances and religious traditions of the Masai people, the "children of the savannah".
The Masai people live in the heart of Africa, between theTanzania and the Kenya, and boasts such a unique and particular history that, in the eyes of Westerners, it could even seem magical. Of Nilotic origin, the Masai (the word derives from "maa", the spoken language) live mainly on farming, are organized in clans and are structured in very isolated villages, miles and miles away from everything and everyone. Tradition has it that the progenitor of all of them,Mamasinta, initially settled in the valley of Lake Turkana (Kenya) has started a greatmigration to Tanzania, to then settle in the heart of the Black Continent.


The oldest Masai villages dot theareas of Arushaand the surroundings of the'Ngorongoro Crater. It is there, among landscapes of surreal beauty, that even today it is possible to visit the houses where they live, the small schools where children learn to read and write and the places where they celebrate their traditional rites. Each village is structured in a "family" way and, among the members who are part of it, marriages are not possible. The main figures are that ofpatriarchand of the elders who have power over affairs, legal judgments and the rites to which men are subjected in the various passages of age: initiate, moran (warrior), young elder and elder.
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Each village is characterized by typical houses made ofdung and mudamalgamated and placed on a structure of branches. Each of them has an oval shape, has a height of less than 2 meters, has no windows and, inside, is divided into three parts: hearth for cooking, man's bed, wife's bed and children's. Even the layout of the houses is not accidental. The first house on the right of the main entrance is that ofhouseholder, the second that of the first wife. The first house on the left is instead that of the second wife, followed by that of the boys and girls.
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Inside the larger villages there are small structures that serve asschoolsfor children. For some years they have also been taught to speak English, although their mother tongue remains the "Masai language". Once they grow up, the children can continue their studies in the more advanced schools which are usually located tens of kilometers away from the villages. And so, every day, to go to school, every Masai makes ajourney on foot that lasts hours and hours


The Masai people live mainly onsheep-farming. It is the men who devote themselves to grazing while the women take care of all the other chores, from collecting wood to "looking after" the arrangement of the house, from going to the small markets to cooking, up to blessing the fence every morning at dawn with some 'water put in a gourd, spreading it with a sprig ofosekithe sacred tree. Every man can have several wives and conjugal fidelity belongs only to the woman. The marriage rite is as cheerful as it is particular and divorces are almost never allowed.


As for thereligion, the Maasai are monotheistic and believe in a god calledEnkai. This figure changes color depending on the mood: it isNarokwhen it's black and good, it isNanyokiewhen he's red and sore. L'Oloibonit is the Masai who acts as a mediator between the god and the people. There are many rituals linked to the region but the most characteristic and cheerful ones are linked to events such as the "welcome" and the wedding. On these occasions, the women typically wear very large necklaces (if they are white it means that the ceremony is important) and thedancesare characterized by a capella music, jumps (made by men) andrhythmic movements of the neckforwards and backwards (women do it so that the necklaces make pleasant noises when they move).
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Today the Masai also live in cities, not just in remote villages, yet recognizing them is very simple. Beyond their stature and slender body, they use typical dressshuka, a plaid cotton blanket with the predominant colors of red and black. Women don't wear shuka but blue, red or black tunics and, in most cases, the color indicates their social status.
But you know

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1 comment

Kenya, top 7 things to do and see | Africa May 17, 2022 - 6:36 pm

[…] della regione. Attraversato dal fiume Mara, da cui prende il nome, esso è ancora oggi abitato dal popolo dei Masai, di origine nilotica, che vive tra il Kenya e la Tanzania. I loro villaggi, costituiti da capanne […]


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