Dancing With The Maasai

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After our safari adventures, Ava and I were ready to do some serious shopping. We asked Dee if there was a Maasai craft market where we could buy masks and blankets, and he said that we could buy crafts at the local Maasai village, where we would also get a tour and learn how they lived. Sounded good!

We arrived to the circular village in the blazing early afternoon sun and were greeted by a group of Maasai warriors dressed in their traditional blankets, sandals and beaded belts and necklaces. The bright red color of the blankets wards off animals, and the belts and necklaces are gifts given to them by their wives and girlfriends.

Maasai 4The circle of mud huts is protected by a circular hedge of firestick succulents, and it is filled with cows. They seriously have a lot of cows.

Maasai 2Maasai 1The first thing they did was show us a series of traditional dances, which we were invited to participate in. The video below shows a montage, starting with the “Welcome Circle” where they blow the horn and chant, then dance in a circle.

Next comes the jumping competition. They jump so freakin’ high! It’s crazy. Apparently whoever jumps the highest gets the most girlfriends, although they were laughing when they told us this, so I have a feeling it’s not really true. We were invited to jump too, as well as chant and dance in the last dance which was a ‘gratitude prayer.’ This last one was my favorite – a deep, breathy chanting combined with a slow moving forward of everyone at once. They told us that this dance reminds them of how thankful they are for everything they have, and they pray that no animals will come to attack them and steal their cows.

Not captured here is me trying to chant with them which was really fun. I can see why they want to make those noises – it’s very cathartic. At the end they put the chief’s headdress on each of us for a photo op. It was cool, but I knew I did not deserve that honor, as the chief of the village is determined by which warrior throws the first spear in a lion hunt at age 16. Unless they also have a provision for outstanding underage drinking, I’m pretty sure I’m out of the running.

Then they showed us how they build fires with a simple wooden stick and wooden plate with a hole in it. You can see how they do it in the video below in real time – about three minutes to get a full-on fire going!

Next we toured one of the traditional huts, which the women build for the family out of cow dung and mud. Here’s Ava standing out front, holding a ceremonial dance stick in her hand.

Maasai 6They sleep on a bed of cowhide that’s stretched out over wooden posts in here, and they build fires inside the houses. I asked the guy where the smoke goes, and he pointed to the little window that you can see in the photo below. Uh….really? The smoke goes out that hole? Is this magic smoke? I wasn’t buying it.

Maasai 5When we got back to Tipilikwani Camp, I asked David the general manager (and knower of everything to do with this part of Kenya) about this. He laughed and told me that once he had a pair of over-zelous Aussies staying at the camp who wanted to sleep in a Maasai hut for one night to get an ‘authentic experience,’ and they practically choked to death on the smoke inside the house. I believe it! I couldn’t understand why they didn’t just cook their food outside where they conducted everything else in their lives? Why cook inside? No one wanted to answer this question for me at the village. I should e-mail David and ask him.

While we were sitting inside the hut, our host asked us if we wanted to drink some cow’s blood. They waste no part of the animal, which is excellent news ecologically, but somehow it seemed crazy to avoid eating salads for weeks on end for fear of stomach bugs only to chug a cup of blood. Ava and I both said, “No thank you” quickly, and at the same time.

Maasai 7Next the women of the village performed a chanting song for us. At first they really didn’t seem like they wanted to sing and dance for us and it was making Ava and I very uncomfortable. We kept telling the warriors, “They don’t need to dance. We’ll just go and buy their stuff. Seriously, they don’t need to dance!” But dance and sing they did, and we got up with them to join in. When I got home to show Violet the photos, she was very impressed with their clothing, which is amazingly colorful and layered.

Maasai 8Now keep in mind it’s about a hundred degrees fahrenheit and we’ve been out in the sun for about an hour at this point. Thank god shopping was next! They have a second circular area where they set up several tables with all their wares. As you go down the line, the craftspeople shout out to you, picking up stuff and showing it off. Our host warrior gathered up the stuff we wanted to buy as we went.

Maasai 11At one point we kind of got stuck at this one table and I said to the guy, “We want to spread the money around – we don’t want to buy everything from one table.” And he said, “It does not matter which table. In the Maasai village, we all share.”

Maasai 12“Oh!” I said. “You know, in America? We don’t share.” He laughed and laughed, then translated it to the other warriors who also laughed. It was pretty funny – Selfish, asshole Americans – that’s funny! Anyway, it made the rest of the shopping trip a lot more relaxed, knowing that they were spreading the wealth anyway.

Maasai 10Here I am buying a traditional Maasai warrior blanket. I have yet to scare any hyenas with it. Maybe it would work on coyotes?

After we shopped in true American style, they had to sort out how much we owed, and which craftspeople had made which items. It was quite a long process, which, like everything else, they conducted in the middle of the circle in direct sunlight. And of course they weren’t wearing hats, sunglasses and sunscreen like us. But I could feel myself burning and getting heatstroke.

It was time to go. I will never forget it.

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