Ilya Nodia - Maasai
Photography, Retouching, Digital Photography
" Every time when I go to a new country or an unknown for me town I don’t know what to expect. I always used to fall asleep at school geography lessons, and more than that I seldom read internet articles for travellers. I prefer watching people’s lives at this current moment and listen to their real stories. On one hand it can create an incomplete picture and deceive me in somewhat, but on the other hand it is my own experience and that is why it is so valuable for me. And now it happened again in Tanzania, where I knew about Masai people for the first time in my life.
Nowadays a large tribal organisation looks almost the same as a tin can telephone. It is an archaic and improbable cinema image, but awfully atmospheric and pleasant. When you come here from the city modernity it’s so hard to convince yourself in reality of what is happening. And when I tell about the tribe, I mean real aborigines whose culture traits didn’t change much in spite of close contact with civilisation.
Masai look like any other aborigines in the modern world – quite amazing, romantic and warlike. However, as our driver Imany says, now Masai are mostly nomadic shepherds. Hunting is little by little becoming forbidden due to national parks, and architecture and farming don’t develop in villages. Today Masai tribes are more about convenient and bright African brand, an icon of resisting traditionalism. However, wilder Masai tribes are really smart: they get on well with nature and know an ‘animal language’ – lions don’t disturb these shepherds and are even afraid of them. The main Masai ration include milk, animal blood, kefir, millet, flour, water, and meat. And of course there are herbs, fruit, and vegetables, that can be found in the jungle and used for soup. There is no bread. All the meal is 100% natural, so Masai people often live up to 90 years old.
Due to many problems such are illnesses Masai loyalty for tourism increased. The closer to towns and national parks the more visible is commercialisation. They meet you in their villages with jaded phrases from cartoons and dances originally suitable just for holidays. Civilisation influence is strongly noticeable – some people have mobiles, business on shoving souvenirs is actively working, there are commercial shows in hotels, and inside the colourful tents fashionable Adidas sweatshirts hide. In addition, Masai pull your money for every step. I suggested them repeating the phrase ‘Hey, you are so appetitive!” to be more convincing.
However, each settlement is made fair, even if it is highly involved in tourism. There are real inhabitants, warriors, a school, huge corrals, and huts made of shit and sticks (literally). Instead of hospitals there are healers and herbalists with huge knowledge on creating healing potions.
By the way, here is a kindagati – a village school for the smallest kids who are taught to count, read and are prepared for primary school. But it is true just for advanced villages – wild tribes in the jungle don’t have any education. Boys from the young age expectedly start herding cattle, and girls are busy with housework. As before, children here are just small adults. They are plastered with flies from head to toe. There are a lot of flies, and they surely intent to get into your mouth without asking. Flies can be dangerous: for example, a tsetse fly brings a sleeping sickness that killed a lot of Masai. Maybe you will be able to chase them away for a couple of hours. Maybe for a few days. But if you are a village inhabitant you have to get used for them, and it looks awful.
Warrior is more like status of a definite social group. Young inhabitants at the age of about 20 go through the custom of initiation, as years before. Boys become warriors and they ought to live in a special village with a fence and protect themselves from outside threat for about 4 months. The villages are in the wild nature so there are always a plenty of woollen wretches who dream to swallow you. Meetings with lions, leopards, hyenas and other suspicious wildlife happen routinely. Due to high warriors’ mortality in ancient times polygamy was established among the aborigines. A man can have several wives, and family wealth is defined by livestock population.
Under the onslaught of civilisation and tourism market Masai life is definitely changing. Warm climate and deep history let them keep their cultural identity, though we can’t talk about full isolation from modernity. Fast benefit from tourists is a too strong temptation, though not everyone likes it. Mere inhabitants of the village experience obvious and understandable discomfort: piles of tourists are taken here, and there haven’t been any enthusiasm in the eyes of local people for a long time, in spite of instant income. Of course, it would be great to imagine these cool dudes running through savanna with spears at the ready and bare asses to the drum music, but times are changing. And it is great we still have an opportunity to meet these unique people in their almost original form. It’s like a warm telephone made of two tin cans and a cord. So preposterous in our times and so cool. "
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