My Travels: A visit to a Masai Village – Part 2

The village is poor beyond the comprehension of someone from places they call developed. The village children wore western clothes, shorts and shirts, dirty and faded. The woman wore bright blankets, barefoot with dream catcher ear rings. The higher the status of the woman, the more fancy was the dream catcher hanging from her ear.

Measures of poverty are unseen on a single visit: Health, or ill health, can be measured by poor dentition, but the infant mortality rate is unknown. AIDS has marked Kenya as well, with most Safari vehicles brandishing an AIDS education bumper sticker proudly. The skin of the villagers is dry, scarred, and some of the children had open sores.

The woman collect water in 25 litre plastic barrels and carry these from the water point. This might be a hand pump or a flowing river in season. There is no obvious filtration system, and I did not smell any chlorine or bleach. They boiled the water for tea, but this was winter. What about in summer when you wanted a cold draft of clear water to slake your thirst? There were no fridges, stoves or any other modern electrical appliance we might think we could not live without.

The Masai moved in to Southern Kenya 300 years ago. They established themselves as successful cattle herders and warriors. Slowly their life was infiltrated by a cancer that included colonisation and then globalisation. They still live in houses that resemble their original dwellings. They still barricade their villages with thorns. They still occasionally kill lions with their bare hands and spears. But even if their children wanted to become great warriors as in the past, it will not be possible. Things have changed so much. If the same children want to dream of becoming anything else it must be to be a city man, dressed in smart clothes with a car and mobile phone. What measures have they left of success, when the old system is dying and the new system is corrupt?

As the young men came home with the cattle, they offered to show us how they drain blood for their blood milk mix. The placed a belt around the cows neck as a tourniquet to bulge the external jugular vein.  One of the men stood back with a bow and arrow and shot from point blank. The arrow bounced off the thick hide. He repeated the shot, over and over, until in the darkness we abandoned the village, sick off the pain in the cow’s eyes and the ineffectual blunt arrow.

Soon they will not  kill a lion anymore. One day they will not even be able to see a lion anymore.


My Travels: A visit to a Masai Village –Part 1

The interesting thing about wildlife viewing in East Africa is that the Masai are an integral part of the scenery. These tall and regal cattle herders work in the reserves as guides (like Wilson), askaris and managers. They live in the adjoining conservancies, where cattle still graze.

We visited a small village in the Naboisho Conservancy. It was late in the afternoon and storm clouds had built up, threatened to rain and withdrew as we drove along the almost impassable track, rutted so badly from vehicles crossing it when the clay was wet. The road looked like some piece of modern art, rutted, ridged, wet and dry.

“Wilson”, I said, “We don’t want to go to a tourist village. Show us the real thing.”

“Yes, we are going to a small village like mine. You will like it.” He was very proud that we were visiting. His conservancy was only two years old and they were all super keen to make it work. We arrived at the village which had a brush and thorny barrier encircling it. The diameter was about seventy meters.

The clouds closed in as we arrived. We walked through the narrow entrance that was closed at night using thorn branches. There was an inner stockade which was covered in cow dung, and as the rain came down the wetness cleared the strong animal smell. This stockade was where they kept their cattle at night. The poles were over two and a half metres tall, closely placed and formed an impenetrable barrier. There is a program to facilitate the Masai buying mesh and barbed wire at reduced rates to further reinforce the stockade. If a lion takes an animal from a secure stockade then the government pays out the owner. The Kenyan constitution is being modified at the moment: they are debating the monetary value to be paid out if the lion takes a human life…

The adult women all greeted us with a handshake. The children all lined up, inclined their heads and waiting for a greeting which left me feeling like the Pope blessing the masses: each one had to be touched on the head in greeting. It was quite moving. The men were out, some working at lodges and some just chatting. The older boys were out with the cattle. As we looked around we saw a herd of thousands of wildebeest moving south on the horizon, a reminder of the reason I was in the Mara.

Wildebeest passing on the horison

The village was poor. There was no running water or latrine facility. The mud houses were low, with small doors and tiny ventilations slits as windows.  The buildings were laid out in the outer circle, between the stockade and the outer thorn barrier. We went inside and sat with one of the woman, asking questions through Wilson who acted as an interpreter. There was no natural light coming through the slit in the wall. The slit was smaller than a shoe box on its side, and it was dark and overcast outside anyway. Each house had a solar rechargeable lantern donated by an American benefactor. At least this did not add smoke to the small fire which burnt in the hearth.