“This is yellow cotton,” explained Jack, our Maasai guide as he took us to his traditional Maasai village on the fringes of the Maasai Mara National Park. He pulled some leaves off and rubbed them together and then on his forearm. “It repels mosquitoes.”
A Maasai village averages about 20 families making up about 200 inhabitants. They’re pastorals, herding sheep, goats and cows through the lands; a nomadic tribe, “Moving every 9 years because the huts we build from cow dung only last that long,” Jack explained.
“Each house has spaces for beds and a separate room for calves and baby goats, to protect them from hyena, leopard or lion that try to take them in the night. We keep our animals inside the compound and close the gate but the wild animals still come in.”
“I’m nomadic as well,” I grinned, explaining my lifestyle.
“Then you are Maasai as well,” Jack christened me.
Along with my simba-like hair I was given the lion’s mane (which Jack had hunted) to wear as a hat while I danced with the warriors at the entrance of the village compound.
For the traditional welcoming dance the Maasai men lined up, chanted a song with one making deep throaty sounds, resembling a lion’s call (I assume), and then jumping as though they were going for an alleyoop.
“We are polygamous,” Jack explained when he landed. “When we want to marry, we have to pay a dowry of ten cows per wife. The higher you jump, the less dowry you pay. The man who jumps the highest is chosen by the woman who wants to marry him.”
“How many wives do you have?” I asked.
“Two,” he grinned. “But there is a man in another village who has 13 wives.”
“13?!?” I exclaimed.
“And in our culture, you have to provide a hut for each wife.”
Maasai are perhaps, in my opinion, the most feared tribe in Africa. Even lions are scared of them as the Maasai version of a bar mitzvah is to spend three years in the bush getting circumcised, learning the traditions and ways of the elders and returning to the village after successfully hunting down a full-grown male lion with nothing but a spear in a group of 30-40 pledges: The Warrior Initiation (and I thought getting my light-blue belt in Shorin Rio was tough).
“We must bring back the mane, teeth and claws to prove that we have killed it,” Jack said.
In his hut I was offered pombe, the beer made from the fruit of the sausage tree mixed with sugar and other herbs, fermented for five days by the fire in a milk can in the kitchen section of the hut (really it was the everything section: bed, lounge,goat, kitchen).
“Our main diet is cow’s blood and milk,” he continued. “We make a small incision in the cow’s neck, collect a litre of blood and then, using a leather strap, we seal the wound and the cow continues to survive and provide.”
I wasn’t about to volunteer to taste cow’s blood. The pombe was harsh enough. After a full mug thanks to the two tourists who couldn’t down more than a sip, I was already feeling tipsy.
I traded my Tanzanian Massai blanket with an elder who had admired the pattern. I felt proud to be bestowed such an honour (although the creamy, crusty stain looked suss. It did come out in the wash).
The Maasai are all about jewellery and trinkets and before we left, I was convinced to trade my shirt for a necklace with what appeared to be the tooth of a large carnivore. I suspected lion.
“What is it?” I asked Jack.
“Olive wood,” he attempted a straight face.
“Of course it is,” I placed it around my neck, cementing Jack’s claim of my Maasaianism.