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The Maasai: People & Culture

Meeting the Maasai people and getting to know more about their culture is an indispensable part of Kenyan or Tanzanian travel experience. The Maasai are a Nilotic ethnic group inhabiting northern, central, and southern Kenya and northern Tanzania. Visiting the Maasai people in their villages is a popular activity for tourists.

The Maasi Dance

Known in Maa as adumu, the dance is performed in a coming of age ceremony for young men in the Maasai tribe or a ceremony for warriors that involves jumping. They form a semicircle and take turns to jump at the center, as high as possible, without letting their heels touch the ground. As each man jumps, the others sing a high-pitched song whose tone depends on the height of the jump.

Maasai Dance

Language, Ethnic and Society

The Maasai speak the Maa language and they are a member of the Nilotic language family. Most Maasai people speak the official languages of Kenya and Tanzania, which is Swahili and English. According to the census, there are over a million Maasai people.

Activities

The Maasai people are nomads and cattle herding is their main activity. Apart from herding, they hunt Lions and take it very seriously, as it is seen as a display of courage and strength. When it comes to feeding, their diet consists of milk, raw blood, and raw meat.


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Clothing and Body Modification

The most recognizable piece of clothing worn by the Maasai people is the shùkà, sheet of fabric worn wrapped around the body. After circumcision, young men wear black for several months. Older men usually wear red wraparounds, whereas women choose to go for checked, striped, or patterned pieces of cloth.

Ear piercing and the stretching of earlobes are also part of Maasai beauty. Men and women wear metal hoops on their stretched earlobes. Women shave their heads and remove two middle teeth on the lower jaw (for oral delivery of traditional medicine). The Maasai often walk barefooted or wear simple sandals made of cowhide.

Head shaving is common at many initiations/circumcisions, representing the fresh start that will be made as one passes from one to another of life’s chapters. Warriors are the only members of the Maasai community to wear long hair, which they weave in thinly braided strands.

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