Seven Days in the Serengeti. Day 2: At home with the Maasi.
While the animals are undeniably the main attraction, we are also eager to learn about the local people or tribes and the culture and traditions that make up Tanzania's colorful personality. In Tanzania, none are so significant as the Maasi.
Leaving Tarangire we head toward our next destination, a small but authentic Maasi settlement. The Maasi are a semi-nomadic civilization. They are pastoral, raising cattle and goats within their compounds. Despite pressures from governments, the Maasi have resisted change, refusing to give up their traditional ways. Cattle are the centre of their culture. Wealth is measured by the accumulation of cattle. Historically, cattle have provided for all of their food needs, but, today they are moving to cultivation of crops.
As we arrive we are met enthusiastically by the elders of the tribe. A small group of Maasi men, resplendent in their bright, colorful shukas - reds, oranges, yellows- colorful fabric draped and belted around their lean frames. On their feet they have adopted a novel new type of shoe, a sandal made from used motorcycle tires. It is ingenius really, they are exactly the right width, sturdy, long-lasting and providing protection from the razor-sharp thorns that are piercing even our sturdiest hikers.
We are greeted by the local school teacher, fluent in English and obviously well respected in the community. He leads us to their little settlement. It is round, the perimeter walls protected by steeped piles of sharp brambles or thorns to deter marauding lions or other predators intent on raiding their precious cattle.
Inside, the small mud huts are dotted haphazardly throughout the dry, dusty site. The men gather the branches to make the skeleton of the huts, we are told, and the grasses that will fashion the thatched roofs. But, it is the women, they say, that build the huts. Making "Maasi concrete" from cow dung, urine and dirt, they plaster and create the thick, cool walls.
It is dark inside, only one small window, allowing smoke from the cooking fire to escape. It is sparse, perhaps bleak is more apt. A hard packed dirt floor with a small kitchen area - really just an open fire pit where the women cook the meals.
There is a single bed on a platform. This is where the man of the house sleeps. And, another separate sleeping area where the women and children sleep. In Maasi culture it is common for a man to have multiple wives and numerous children.
Outside there are two penned areas - one for the goats and one for the cattle. It is the job of the women and children to tend to these as well. It is not uncommon to see groups of young children, like shepherds, herding the cows and goats to water or grazing, then home again where they will be protected at night.
There is no water well on the site, only a community or government well located centrally. Each day the women and children must make the trek - often several kilometres, toting their buckets and containers, to fetch the life-giving water needed for not only drinking, but cooking and washing as well. With the buckets filled, they carry them strong and steady on their heads back to the village.
As we are ready to depart, the women and young men, joyful in their colorful dress and intricate beaded collars and jewellery, call us together. They wish to dance for us - a pure, heartfelt celebration of welcome. They reach out, pulling us into to the circle to join their celebration.
In the Maasi culture, the young men incorporate jumping into their dance. The higher they can jump, the better warrior they are. They enlist Alex, one of our group, to join them.
It is primitive, it is simple, but it is family. Every person is a vital part of the community, sharing the work, pulling their weight. Coming from our North American position of smaller, more disconnected families and ever-larger homes filled with possessions and entitlement, the simplicity and purity and contentment are a marked contrast.