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Sunday, 28 September 2008

The People: Meeting the Maasai - Page 2

Written by Jim Dorsey
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We step out of the car into the hot blowing dust of southern Kenya, into a different world in a different time.
A dozen stately Maasai in bright red and purple robes surround us.  Ebony colored hands reach out for ours in welcome, and two different ways of life come together.  Maasai means those who speak Maa, but they simply call themselves "the people".

The People: Meeting the Maasai, Moses Pulei, Traditional Maasai, Maasai culture, Los Angeles Adventurer’s Club, Namanga, Kenya, East Africa, Jim DorseyThe women are glorious with their long dangling earrings and layer upon layer of necklaces.  Maasai are world renowned for their beadwork and everyone has turned out in their very best to welcome us.  Only a couple speak English, learned at local primary schools, but language is no barrier.  We are accepted as friends straight away.

But we are not here as idle guests.  We will tend cattle, milk goats, draw water from the river, and live as our hosts do.

Moses tells me only one other white person has been to this village besides a couple missionaries, another friend from the Adventurer’s Club.  The boma (village) is called Maili-Tisa and it means “Nine Miles,” the distance south to the Tanzanian border.  It sits in Namanga, Kenya, East Africa.  It is hot, dry and desolate.

Moses points to the nearby hills with his walking stick and says there are many leopards there and quite a few Cape Buffalo.  This is his way of saying do not stray far from the village without an escort.  Then I notice all of the men carrying spears.

He bids us to follow him and we walk through the only opening of a circular wall of thorn bushes that forms a shoulder high barrier around the boma – these thorn walls are traditional to keep out predators.  A large thorn branch is dragged into the opening after the last person enters at night.

Inside the thorn fence, smoke from cooking fires pervades the air.  There are several small, round huts.  They are shoulder high, made from mud and dung smeared over a tree branch frame with thatched roofs.  We must duck to enter and make an immediate turn once inside.  I fill the opening and almost get stuck. This entrance helps to keep out the weather and confuses any predator that might breach the thorn wall.  Next, there is a tiny wooden pen where newborn goats are kept at night.  This keeps the newborns warm until they get older and they also act as a last line of defense, braying out if an animal should enter, waking all inside the hut.

The People: Meeting the Maasai, Moses Pulei, Traditional Maasai, Maasai culture, Los Angeles Adventurer’s Club, Namanga, Kenya, East Africa, Jim DorseyThere is a glowing fire in the center where chai tea is kept ready throughout the day.  The only ventilation is a tiny hole in the side of the wall and smoke is chokingly thick.  We squat on the dirt floor and are given sweet chai. The four of us fill the hut and my shoulders brush both walls as I wedge myself into a sleeping platform. Moses sits down to “Eat the News,” with his cousin.  This is a tradition where the returned traveler relates all that has happened since his departure.  The listener responds with a series of low sounds after each sentence to let the news talker know he is being listened to.  The result is a melodious interaction that takes on a cadence quite pleasing to the ear.  Moses’ cousin nurses her baby during this exchange, oblivious to all but the news.

(Page 2 of 5)
Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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