All you need to know before visiting a Maasai village : Maasai people live in Kenya and Tanzania. They are one of the most famous and well-known tribes in East Africa. They have always lived around the Maasai Mara National Reserve and Serengeti National Parks on both sides of the line as semi-nomadic herders. Maasai villages have been visited by tourists on safaris for a long time. The tribe may have one of the longest ties with the tourism industry.
This relationship has helped the Maasai, but it has also caused many problems. For example, tourism can give towns an alternative way to make a living, but it can also hurt them if it isn’t done in a way that respects their culture. Before you decide to go to Kenya or Tanzania safari and visit a Maasai village, there are a few things you should think about and keep in mind. Here are important things to know.
Avoid stereotypes and leave your misconceptions at home.
There are many wrong ideas about the Maasai, and it’s easy to fall back on stereotypes. We’ve all seen pictures of the women wearing bright beads around their necks and the tall, skinny men jumping metres into the air. But there is a lot more to Maasai culture than the things that have been shown on travel ads and National Geographic covers.
Keeping an open mind is the best thing you can do when you visit Maasai or any other tribal group in East Africa. We shouldn’t be limited by the stereotypes we’ve seen in the media, especially tourist magazines, which often reduce the Maasai culture to a few easily recognizable traits, like beaded jewelry and athleticism, when the tribe’s traditions and history are much more complicated than that.
Be open to learning something new. You might find that the safari experience makes you question or even change some of your ideas.
Why it is important to travel with an ethical and responsible tour operator.
When going to see a traditional tribe, the hardest thing to decide is which tour company to use. Tourism is not a new idea for Maasai people. In fact, they have been welcoming tourists for many decades, grateful to their close closeness to the Maasai Mara and Serengeti National Park, two of the continent’s biggest safari game parks.
Maasai communities have known for a long time that letting tourists into their towns is a good way to diversify their ways of making a living beyond pastoralism and subsistence. Tourism brings in a lot of money and opens up a lot of doors for many remote communities. However, some travel companies have taken advantage of the Maasai for their own financial gain. Sometimes the money isn’t given back to the community fairly, and sometimes the villages have to do certain things to make tourists happy.
You should always ask the travel company you choose about their sustainable practices and what policies and projects they have in place to protect the community’s history. This will make sure that tourism is good for everyone involved.
Be aware of ‘display’ or fake villages.
Tourism has had a big effect on the Maasai areas around safari national parks by causing people to build fake towns. Many safari programmes take tourists to these places, where they have to pay extra money to get in. This takes advantage of both the tourists and the Maasai, who are forced to put on a show for the tourists.
By using a responsible travel company to visit the Maasai tribes, you will not only have a more real experience in a real village, but you can also be sure that the community will gain from having a more real connection with the tourists.
Respect the Maasai traditions.
Maasai are a very proud and traditional tribe who have kept many of their customs and ways of life for many generations. This is probably the main reason why we, as outsiders, want to visit their communities and learn about how they have grown and cared for their relationship with the land where they live. However, it also means that we need to be respectful of their ways and not judge something as “wrong” just because we wouldn’t do it ourselves.
For example, the Maasai have always been fighters called morans, and in many of the most remote villages, boys are still sent away to learn how to become morans. For weeks at a time, they have to hunt and live in the bush as part of this training, which may seem cruel to us but is an important part of their group identity. It’s important that we recognize and honour these different customs and practices from different cultures.
Show an interest in their culture.
People want to visit the Maasai to learn more about their proud ways, which is another reason why they are so interesting. Instead of just using your short visit to take pictures, be interested and make the most of your time by asking polite questions.
The Maasai are very proud of their culture and welcome the chance to show it to people from other places. Ask them about their lives and try to come up with questions that show you can connect to them. After all, travel is all about making connections with people from other cultures and sharing information and stories.
Ask before taking photos or videos.
Taking a picture to remember something is often a natural thing to do when moving. Even though many Maasai communities are used to this, and many villages have worked with the tourism industry for a long time, you should always ask permission before taking photos or video. Imagine if someone came to your town and started taking pictures of your home, family, and way of life without asking.
Before taking pictures of children, it’s especially important to ask the parents’ permission, but you should always ask before taking a picture of anyone. Most Maasai are friendly, and most will be happy to help, especially if they are wearing their traditional clothes, which gives them a lot of joy. But keep in mind that older people in the village may not like this, and it’s important to respect anyone who says they don’t want their picture taken.
You should also know that the Maasai people depend on their animals to make a living, and that raising cattle has been their way of life for a long time. Because of this, a family’s livestock is very important to them. Taking a picture of their animals can be seen as disrespectful or dangerous, so always ask before you pick up your camera.
Don’t offer money or gifts.
One of the biggest worries about bringing tourism to remote areas is that people will think that strangers are only going there to help out. As we’ve said, tourism can be a big part of a more stable and varied way of making a living for many towns. However, giving money or gifts, no matter how well-meaning, can do more harm than good.
One of the best things about travelling is getting to know people from other countries and hearing their stories. However, this can be lost when tourists use the chance to give out candy or money. Even though you might feel compelled to give something, especially to children, doing so can encourage begging and add to the idea that outsiders are only there to help out.
The best way to give back to the places you visit is to be there and make sure that the tour company you go with is doing the right thing to help the people there make a living. You can also help in other ways, like by buying hand-made goods made in the area. This can help a family and the local business.
Be prepared for an adventure.
Many Maasai communities live in harsh, dry areas that are often far from big cities. You may notice that the villages don’t have access to many of the basic needs and privileges you take for granted. It’s okay to be a little scared by what you see, but you should do your homework first so you’re ready for the trip you’re going on.
You might not be able to fully prepare for everything, but it’s important to try where you can and be as adventurous as you can while you’re there. For example, the blood and milk of a cow are important parts of the typical Maasai diet. As semi-nomadic pastoralists, this is how they have lived in harsh environments, and it is still a big part of their culture, especially when animals are killed in a special way.
Some outsiders may find this confusing or even upsetting, but if you are as polite and open-minded as possible, it will make you and they feel better. It might mean leaving your comfort zone, but that’s often the point of going.
What to wear when visiting a Maasai village.
When you go to a traditional Maasai town, you can wear safari clothes like long khaki trousers and tops in earthy colours. It’s less about what you wear and more about what they wear. Most Maasai wear red because it represents their culture and they think it keeps wild animals away.
Also, most of the men protect themselves and their community by wrapping a shuka around their skinny bodies and carrying spears. Shuka is usually a red-and-white-checked blanket that covers the upper body and protects it from the harsh desert. The women wear bright clothes with beads on them, and some of them also wear capes.
Beads and wire are used to make Masai jewelry, which is also unique. Most men wear bands on their wrists or ankles and sometimes belts. Women wear several bracelets at once, as well as beaded collars with different patterns and colours that show which group they are from and how important they are in society.