Maasai Mara, Kenya. Canon EOS-10D, EF 16-35 f/2.8L.

The Maasai

I was fortunate on this trip to be able to spend time photographing two of the indigenous peoples of Kenya: the Maasai, and their close cousins, the Samburu. To Westerners, the Maasai are perhaps the best-known of the native African tribes of Kenya. Traditionally nomadic pastoralists, they developed a reputation as fierce warriors and lion killers, as they competed for grazing land with those great predators of the savannah. Their legendary vertical leaping ability was developed as a way of intimidating the big cats, who perceived in them not just men but men approaching ten feet tall.

The Maasai settled in in Kenya about 1,000 years ago, moving south from Lake Turkana into the fertile lands of the Great Rift Valley. The British moved them into the more arid savannah regions of the south, but even there the Maasai have maintained their traditional nomadic way of life.

The Maasai graze their cattle over vast distances, and live in temporary villages, or manyattas, of huts surrounded by a thorn fence for protection. Their diet consists primarily of milk, some meat, and blood drawn from their cattle.

Today the Maasai have adapted to tourism, and have found ways to benefit from the influx of people into Kenya's game reserves. Villages in close proximity to the reserves will charge tourists an admission fee to take pictures, and also insist on selling trinkets , some of which are of distinctly dubious local origin. In our case, however, the experience was mutually beneficial, and as we spent time getting to know them as people, we found them warm and friendly, and eager to show their way of life to visitors from America.

Above: Village children, Maasai Mara, Kenya. Canon EOS-10D, EF 50 f/1.4.

 

Maasai elder, Maasai Mara, Kenya. Canon EOS-10D, EF 16-35 f/2.8L

The Maasai Culture

The Maasai are a distinctly patriarchal society, and the lives of males are punctuated by ritual. At the time of circumcision, around 12-15 years, males are initiated as moran, or young warriors. As moran, they wander from village to village, keep watch over the livestock, and defend the tribe against enemies. They remain warriors for about 15 years, until around age 30 they pass through another set of rituals, enuoto, which confers elder status on the men, who may then marry and have children.

While the men care for the livestock, the Maasai women do much of the work in the manyatta: caring for and teaching the children, building the huts, and making clothing.

Maasai club and stick, Maasai Mara, Kenya. Canon EOS-10D, EF 70-200
f/2.8L IS

 

Maasai Mara, Kenya. Canon EOS-10D, EF 50 f/1.4.

 

 

Ben, one of the village elders, Maasai Mara, Kenya. Canon EOS-10D, EF
70-200 f/2.8L IS

 

Grazing goats, Maasai Mara, Kenya. Canon EOS-10D, EF 70-200 f/2.8L IS

 

Village woman, Maasai Mara, Kenya. Canon EOS-10D, EF 50 f/1.4.

 

Young boys learning to care for the animals, Maasai Mara, Kenya. Canon EOS-10D, EF 16-35  f/2.8L.

 

 

Maasai Mara, Kenya. Canon EOS-10D, EF 50 f/1.4.

 

Village children, Maasai Mara, Kenya. Canon EOS-10D, EF 50 f/1.4.