The Maasai are characterized by unique traditional clothing and jewelry made of colored beads, they are undoubtedly the most well-known population even for those who have never been to Africa; perhaps, though, not many know of their traditions and customs which have been passed on for centuries only by word of mouth.
They live in East Africa, in one of the most iconic areas of the whole African continent, where the Kilimanjaro Mountain and the Serengeti, Amboseli and Masai Mara Parks are situated.
The interesting aspects of this population are plenty: their social organization, the villages, the importance of cattle, rituals and beliefs.
The Maasai are, very likely, one of the most well-known populations among all the tribes and ethnicities of Africa despite the fact that they do not have a great history and, most of all, are not so numerous; as a matter of fact, there is no certain documented evidence, but it is estimated there are about a million of them.
They mainly live in Kenya and Tanzania, in a vast area whose virtual borders are the Kilimanjaro to the South, Lake Victoria to the West and Lake Naivasha to the North; there are however some living in South Tanzania and in the Lake Tanganika and Lake Ruaha areas.
They are divided into 12 main clans: Keekonyokie, Damat, Purko, Wuasinkishu, Siria, Laitayiok, Loitai, Kisonko, Matapato, Dalalekutuk, Loodokolani and Kaputiei.
They inhabit the land where the most iconic natural parks in the world are found: the Serengeti National Park, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, the Masai Mara National Park and the Amboseli National Park.
Little is known about the history of the Maasai people, to know their origin it is necessary to refer to their oral tradition, for there are no written sources with the exception of some texts compiled in more recent times by the first settlers who reached this area.
The Maasai trace their origin back to the Nilotic strain like the Samburu, the Luo, the Turkana and the Ethiopian populations, and they originated in the Nile Valley region. Many historians believe this people have existed for about 3,000 years, but documented information is non-existent; they migrated towards today’s dwelling area between the 15th and the 17th century.
They live according to traditions that have been passed on from generation to generation refusing progress and a modern social structure.
They mainly live in traditional villages, they wear characteristic garments of colored/dyed cloths, mostly red, and they style their hair, in peculiar and very identifying fashions: women have shaved hair while men wear theirs long and braided; what really characterizes them though, are the very big and colorful jewels, made from metal wire and beads.
Their occupation is mainly that of nomadic shepherds, and cattle represent the core of all their activities and influences all the aspects of their life, from food to traditions, layout of the villages and culture.
The Maasai speak maa, a language belonging to the root of Nilo-Saharan languages, “Maasai” means, after all, “maa-speaking people”, but they also speak the official languages of Kenya and Tanzania, which are Kiswahili and English.
The Maasai are monotheist, they believe in one God, Enkai, creator of the world; the importance of cattle to the Maasai is to be found exactly in their religious beliefs.
Even the villages layout is built around a central enclosure where, at night, the cattle find shelter.