10 interesting facts about the Maasai Tribe
27th May, 2023
The Maasai Tribe are tribal peoples located in Eastern Africa. They are famous the world over for their unique culture and are a popular ‘tourist attraction’ for travellers visiting the area. Personally, I find the tribe fascinating! So today I share with you 10 interesting facts about the Maasai Tribe!
#1 The Maasai Tribe inhabit more than one country
Often, tribes are specific to just one area. However, the Maasai Tribe inhabit northern, central and southern Kenya as well as northern Tanzania! As far as records go, there are over 840,000 Maasai Tribe members living in Kenya, and at least 800,000 in Tanzania. With so many members, it’s no wonder there’s so many interesting facts about the Maasai Tribe.
These records can’t be trusted completely, though. Apparently a lot of Maasai members in Kenya see the national census as ‘government meddling’, and purposely miscount their numbers. On top of this, Tanzania do not conduct their census based on ethnicity – so it’s difficult to estimate how many Maasai members live in Tanzania.
#2 The Maasai Tribe is made up of sixteen sections
The Maasai word for section is ‘Iloshon’ – so there are sixteen Iloshons within Maasai society. These are:
- Ilkisonko (also sometimes known as Isikirari)
#3 Blood is part of the Maasai diet
For the most part, the Maasai people live on the milk and meat their cattle. This how they get most of their protein and calories. In more recent years, some Maasai people have introduced other types of food into their diet: maize meal, potatoes, rice, and cabbage. Traditionally this is frowned upon, though. This is because the Maasai see using the land for crop farming as a crime against nature, as it makes the ground no longer suitable for grazing.
And there there’s the blood! Maasai people drink blood on various occasions: when they are sick, have just been circumcised, or have just given birth. Some ilamerak (the Maasai word for ‘elders’) also drink blood to prevent or alleviate hangovers after they’ve been drinking. Not only is blood very rich in protein, it’s also great for the immune system. However as livestock numbers drop, blood is becoming less of a delicacy. This is definitely one of the more out-there facts about the Maasai Tribe!
#4 The Maasai are named after their own language
The name Maasai literally means ‘one who speaks the Maa language’. The language itself is part of the East Neolithic branch of the Nilo-Saharan language family. It is mostly a spoken language, as the tribe place such importance on vocalisation. However there is a Maasai dictionary, and the Bible has been translated into Maasai too.
To hear some numbers and greetings in the Maasai language, as well as some the Maasai translation of the Parable, watch the video below!
There are approximately 36 Nilo-Saharan languages in total, with Maasai being just one of them. Maasai members also learn English and Swahili at school. These are the official languages of Kenya and Tanzania respectively.
#5 The Maasai have their own traditional wardrobe
Members of the Maasai typically dress in red sheets. These are known as ‘shuka’. They are wrapped around the body, and multiple pieces of jewellery are worn over them. Depending on the occasion, these sheets may be a different colour – though for the most part, they’re red. Men and women dress in a relatively similar way, too. Before the introduction of ‘shuka’, Maasai people dressed in animal skins which is typical of tribes in this part of the world.
It is also common for members of the Maasai to have stretched ear lobe piercings. This is common with a lot of tribes, as you may have seen in images of tribal groups. However, the Maasai do it slightly differently. Whereas a lot of tribes keep wooden plugs in their stretched lobe piercings, Maasai members adorn the enlarged fistula with rows of beads as well as a single earring to weight it.
#6 Maasai members pride themselves on their cows
The Maasai Tribe live what’s known as a partially nomadic lifestyle. That is, they move from place to place on seasonal rotation. This is so they always have green pastures and suitable land for their livestock: cows, goats, sheep and donkeys.
Despite owning other animals, it is cows that are particularly special to the Maasai people. Within their community, there is a belief that all of the cows in the world belong to them. Maasai men spend most of their adulthood gathering cows! As a Maasai man, your wealth and status within the tribe is determined by how many cows you own.
Due to their versatility, the Maasai Tribe rely heavily on cows. The milk, meat, cheese (and blood) that make up the Maasai diet comes from cows, and the clothes and mattresses they wear/use are often made from cowhide. Not only that but their ‘manyatta’, the Maa word for homes, have walls and roofs made from cow dung!
#7 There are different religions within the Maasai Tribe
Traditionally, the Maasai Tribe have always been monotheistic. They believe in one god, whose name is Enkai or Engai. This god has what’s known as a duel nature, and they have slightly different names:
Engai Narok, or Black God – he is benevolent.
Engai Nanyokie, or Red God – he is vengeful.
However, in more recent years a lot of Maasai members have become Christian. Some, although not as many, have also turned to the Muslim faith.
#8 The Maasai Tribe are mostly polygamous
In the Maasai culture, when a woman gets married she is marrying her husband’s entire age group. Often, these marriages are arranged by the tribe’s elders. Traditionally, men are (or were, as this is becoming less common) expected to give up their bed for a visiting male guest. The woman of the household can join the visiting guest in that bed, if she so chooses.
Some other things to note about Maasai marriages are that the wife is often much younger than her husband. This means the Maasai Tribe has a lot of widows. They are not expected to remarry, either. The role of women in the marriage, and indeed the Maasari Tribe as a whole, is to have and raise children.
#9 Children in the Maasai Tribe are not named until three months of age
Due to a high mortality rate among infants and babies in the Maasai community, children are not named until they have passed the three month mark. There is also an official naming ceremony for Maasai children. This is known as Enkipukonoto Eaji which roughly translates as ‘coming out of the seclusion period’. Before the ceremony, mother and children are isolated and allow their hair to grow long. It is shaved off at the ceremony. This is symbolise a fresh start for the child!
#10 The Maasai have their own calendar
However, there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to the Maasai calendar. There are no particular names for each month, and no rule as to which month comes after which. It is considered that: “everyone knows there are 12 months, and thirty days within each month; 15 days of brightness and 15 days of darkness, with the 8th day known as the Day of Changing”.
There are three main seasons for the Maasai. These are the long rains, the season of drizzles, and the short rains. These have an impact on the seasonal rotation mentioned earlier.
If you are interested in visiting the Maasai Tribe you can travel to either Kenya or Tanzania. Kenya is often the country of choice, with many people choosing to also do a safari during their trip. Getting to Kenya is easy, with hundreds of flights arriving into the country each week. Getting a visa is pretty straight forward if you use a company like evisa-kenya.com. Since the COVID pandemic all passengers are required to completed a Kenya Health Surveillance questionnaire before departure.
So there you have it – 10 interesting facts about the Maasai Tribe to stun your friends with, or to help the next time you happen to be doing a trivia quiz…