The Masai (also spelled Maasai) are a warrior tribe from Kenya and Tanzania, near the equator. They are typically pictured wearing a red cloth and holding a spear. They live in villages called kraals consisting of 8 to 15 huts. The women are responsible for the seven month task of building a hut. The frame is built of branches and then a plaster mixture of twigs, grass, and cow dung is applied to the frame. When the plaster dries, it is as strong as cement. The only openings are the doorway and a small hole in the roof or wall to allow the smoke from a fire to escape. They use dried cow dung for fuel to keep the fire going to cook and keep them warm during the rainy season. The only furnishings inside are beds of woven branches cushioned with dry grasses and animal skins to sleep on.

The men use branches with thorns as sharp as barbed wire to build thornbush fences as an added protection against the wild animals of the area. The grassland climate is home to many animals including elephants, lions, rhinos, and cheetahs. At night their cows, goats, and other domestic animals are brought inside the fence for protection as well.

Other chores for the women and girls include milking cows and fetching water. They also spend much time doing beadwork. They decorate animal hides, gourds and make arm and leg bracelets. They also pick calabashes (gourds) which are cleaned and then decorated with leather and beads. They use the gourds to store milk, water, honey and cornmeal which is used for food. They do not kill animals for food but will eat them if they die naturally.

The men's primary job is to care for the cattle which they believe God has entrusted to them. Their wealth is therefore measured by the number of cattle they own. As young Masai boys reach the age of 15 they participate in coming of age ceremonies which include many rites and rituals (headdress, circumcision, body painting, etc.). Originally these youth would then be sent into the wild to hunt a lion with only a spear as their weapon. The national governments have since outlawed this practice. Several Masai warriors will live together in one kraal until they have passed on to manhood (5 to 7 years time). Then they will marry and bring their wives and raise their families in the same kraal. Generally people of the same age live in the same kraal. The elderly will all live together but will come to teach traditions and skills to the youth, as well as to lead celebrations and ceremonies.


Sources and Additional Resources

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