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Cultural Traces Around the World

The Maasai – Looking to the Future with Wisdom

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The Maasai culture has a long history. Modern Maasai today live in northern, central, and southern Kenya as well as northern Tanzania, with about 150,000 residing in each country. The Olmaa word for God is Ngai, and it is considered neither male nor female. Ngai is the Creator of all. It is also believed that Ngai endows each person with a guardian spirit to protect them, and to transport them away at the end of their life.

The Maasai are largely known for their culture. Images of the statuesque Maasai adorned in bright red garments around the shoulders and waist abound. “In that tribe, the reason we are famous is because of our traditional values which we inherited from our forefathers from generation to generation. The values of responsibility, respect, courage, and wisdom. These are the values that have kept us together as a community from time immemorial.”

Maasai warrior training is an important tradition for boys. During one of the final coming-of-age ceremonies for warriors, the Adumu, also known as the traditional Maasai dance, takes place. After the ceremony, the males have reached the status of a warrior. The Maasai are skilled at making jewelry, especially beaded jewelry. The ornamental pieces that are worn tells a story about the person’s social status and life experiences. Nowadays, jewelry making provides Maasai women with a unique opportunity to earn more income.

Maasai Elder Emmanuel Milia Mankura has explained that as a leader, he encourages education in the youth and helps to empower women in varied ways such as stopping female circumcision. He helps the community to see the strengths of women. In leading his people, he also works to expand the community’s thinking beyond previous mindsets. This includes advocating for more equality between genders, and encouraging the growing of crops which was once considered taboo. “And in order for us to be successful, to have a sustainable community, it was very important to include the women and the ladies in the community.”

Another area that has seen a change to traditional roles is young Maasai men becoming Lion Guardians as opposed to lion predators. Founded in 2007 by Dr. Leela Hazzah and Dr. Stephanie Dolrenry, Lion Guardians is dedicated to finding and enacting long-term solutions to enable lions and humans to coexist with each other.
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