August 27, 2010
We were hesitant over whether or not to visit a Masai village after our first experience with Masai Warriors in the Bateleur Camp in Kenya. The Masai Warriors we met there were very traditional and spoke with us about traditional practices of the Masai Warriors like female circumcision, also known as genital mutilation in western circles, and the practice of killing a lion to enter manhood. I knew that these practices exist, but was under the impression that many of the Masai were making an effort to stop these old barbaric practices. When we pushed a little and asked if these practices still occurred in their villages we were met with a resounding YES so we dropped the subject and chose not to do a village visit. However when we arrived in Ngorongoro Crater we were met by both our guide Vicky and a guide in training Wilson, who had grown up in a Masai village in the Masai Mara. I had the chance to speak with him in depth about life as a Masai and he told me that many of those practices are now considered barbaric and the government has outlawed them. Some tribes still practice the traditional ways, but for the most part the Masai are trying to find a new place in the world of the 21st Century. We spoke about the efforts of the government and NGO’s to retrain Masai to protect lions instead of hunting them. He told me about the difficulties of leaving the village to go into conservation work. Before training to become a guide he worked as a ranger at the Mara Conservancy in Kenya. He told me that since he was a little boy he wanted to help animals and it was difficult for his family to see him leave tradition and go into conservation. However it is of the up most importance for people like Wilson to go into conservation, because now he can return to his village and speak with them about conservation and the importance of protecting big cats instead of killing them.
We decided to go visit a Masai Village by the crater with Wilson, but as I feared it was very touristy. They basically set up a show for us where they danced and then showed us a hut, how to make fire, and then their beaded work, which of course was for sale. We visited the kindergarten, but again it was a show where they sang to us and there was no interaction.
I’m glad we had the experience, and I love the Masai beaded work and was happy to pick up some beautiful items, but it is hard to find a real meaningful moment in the constructed experience. The tourist money is important to them though and helps encourage the dismantling of inhumane traditions like genital mutilation, because tourists will not visit if they do those horrible acts.
I would recommend the experience, but also encourage you to find a Masai either in the village or outside who you can sit with and have a longer more meaningful conversation with, because that is truly a great experience that I will not soon forget.