The Maasai are a nomadic people who live in Kenya and Tanzania. Despite the attempts of the Kenyan and Tanzanian governments to end their traditional lifestyle, the Maasai still stick to their age-old customs and speak their own language (Maa). On this page we would like to explain you more about the life of the Maasai to give you an insight in the daily lives of the children and families who are supported by our projects. We will update this page in the coming months with new topics, so keep following us!
The Maasai live in a boma, an inclosure, with different houses and a seperate corral for the cattle in the middle. Their houses are surrounding the corral of the cattle in a circle. How many houses the boma has, depends on the number of people who live in the boma. The boma of Nanginyi and Lepapayi consists of 4 houses where 14 people live, but there are also boma’s in the neighbourhood with 10 houses or more. A Maasai house is made by the women with a foundation of wooden poles and branches. Branches are then woven to make walls which are plastered with mud, sticks and cow dung. The roof will then be covered with thatch. Little holes serve as windows and give the possibility for light to come in. The Maasai make the corral for the cattle, a big circle in the middle of the boma, with branches to protect their cattle against wild animals. Sometimes they also make a circle of branches around their own houses as a form of protection.
Enkaj or Enkaji is the word in Maa, the Maasai language, for house. In this house, which is often a small place, the Maasai cook, eat, sleep, gather together with family friends and neighbours, store their food/oil/soap etc., and it is the place where the young cattle spends the night. A Maasai house usually consists of 2 seperate beds, 1 for the woman and children and one for the man. The beds are made of bounded branches and they use cow skin as a mattress. Under and above the bed is place for the storage of rice, maize, pots and pans. Next to the two bedrooms there is also a space for the young cattle where they can spend the night. In the central space of the house, the livingroom/kitchen, there are places to sit and there is a place to cook. Sometimes the fire inside the house will burn the whole night, beacuse the smoke keeps out mosquitos.
The Maasai are lifestock farmers of origin, so their cattle is very important to them. The Maasai keep cows, goats and sheep. Every day the young Maasai warriors go into the fields with the cattle. A few of them will go with the cows, a few of them will go with the calfs and a few of them will go with the goats and sheep. For the Maasai children it is common to be sent into the field with the cattle at a young age already. They bring the cattle to a place to drink and to graze and return in the evening to the boma with the cattle. Due to the fact that the Maasai are lifestock farmers, Maasai men will never go on the road or out in the fields without a stick!
The traditonal lifestyle of the Maasai centres around their cattle. They use the milk of the cows to drink, their skin as a matress and they also eat the meat of cows. On some special occasions they even drink the blood of the cows. They tie down the neck of a healthy cow/bull, shoot an arrow in the neck and catch up the blood in a calabash. The blood is mixed the with milk and they drink the mixture directly from the calabash. The meat of goats and sheep is also eaten by the Maasai and they use the fat to make creams for their skin. Milk from goats and sheep is also used to drink, but the Maasai prefer the milk of their cows.
Cattle is used as a medium of exchange, means of payment or as a gift. If someone is sick and needs to go to the hospital the Maasai often sell a goat, sheep or cow to get money to pay for the hospital. Cattle is traded on the weekly Maasai market to earn money. It is for example very common to buy a young goat and sell the same goat a couple a months later (when it became bigger) for a higher price. Cattle is an important possession for the Maasai people, because a Maasai wants to have as much cattle as possibly. This makes it a perfect, and often used, gift. If someone got a child or gets married the other Maasai usually bring a goat or sheep as a present. If a Maasai guy wants to marry a Maasai girl he has to pay her family a certain amount of cows as a dower. So you can compare the cattle with a bank account. In the Maasai culture the following rule applies: the more cattle the richer the family!
The dependence on cattle also has some disadvantages. During periods of drought it is not uncommon to lose cattle and also wild animals form a threat. Hyena’s and lions sometimes eat complete herds. It is the job of the young Maasai warriors to protect cattle and therefore they usually sleep outside, close to the cattle.