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Kenya: Meeting The Masai Tribe

Documentary photo story posted on 7 December 2008 by Morten Svenningsen

Members of the Masai (also Maasai) tribe in Kenya. Traditionally the Masais are a nomadic people, traveling around on the savanna to graze their cattle.

Members of the Masai (also Maasai) tribe in Kenya. Traditionally the Masais are a nomadic people, traveling around on the savanna to graze their cattle and protect it from lions.


In an increasingly globalised world, indigenous peoples like the famous Masais (Maasai) tribes of Kenya and Tanzania are facing radical changes in their traditions and lifestyle. Traditionally the Masais are a nomadic people, moving around on the savannah to graze their goats and cattle. The Kenyan government has tried to persuade them away from their nomadic traditions and to settle down in one place, but many Masais stubbornly continue with their nomadic lifestyle.


Masai men making a fire, the traditional way.

Masai men making a fire, the traditional way.

A digital wrist watch reveals that things aren't as traditional as they seem in the village.

A digital wrist watch tells a tale of modern times in the village

I was on a short trip to Masai Mara in Kenya in 2005, a traditional Safari trip that I had won in a photo competition. The tour also included a brief visit to one of the Masai’s small villages a short drive outside the safari zone. Although this visit lasted for less than an hour, I got a distinct impression of a proud and somewhat vain people who have adapted their livelihood to earn whatever they can from us safari tourists. After a little tour around their village, a peek inside their mud-huts and a song and a dance, we were taken to a virtual shopping mall of souvenir stands behind the village, where everyone were anxious to sell all sorts of colorful clothes, beads and knick-knacks.


Honestly, it was a bit too much for me. Not the hawking, I’m used to that from my base here in Nepal, but the erosion of what I’m sure was once a magnificently pure culture. Their way of life was closely related to the nature surrounding them, living in harmony even with the wild animals. Their lion hunting escapades seems somewhat exagerated in modern myths and in fact they even rarely buried their dead since they regarded it as being harmful to the soil.


The Great Rift Valley in Kenya is home to many Masais

The Great Rift Valley in Kenya is home to many Masais

Masai boy hearding the family goats

Masai boy hearding the family goats









Now, with the modern world creeping in from all sides, not only on the Masais of Africa, but on indiginous tribes and cultures around the world, perhaps we are loosing an important last connection to the wild nature. Africa and Kenya was the craddle of mankind and of course development, evolution and change are inevitable.

And sure, I enjoy the benefits of all the modern facilities as much as anyone else. I enjoy being able to travel to foreign countries, exotic locations and on wild safaris like this one. But at the same time it is a bit sad to see the old cultures and traditions fade away, sometimes almost prostitute themselves, to the modern ways of life.

Their traditional way of life has stood the test of time and I hope that it will not be completely forgotten and absorbed in the usual consumerism and pop culture. This year the British caritable organisation, Oxfam, claimed that the lifestyle of the Masai people should be embraced as a response to climate change because of their ability to farm in deserts and scrublands. Perhaps it is not too late to learn from the old ways of life!


The Masai Jump Dance

The Masai Jump Dance

Masai women in their village

Masai women in their village

Proud Masai men in their village

Proud Masai men in their village



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