Visiting a Masai Village in Tanzania

Rays of sunlight shined through the clouds onto the vast grasslands near Lake Manyara. Our land cruiser kicked up the dust behind it as our driver navigated the rough dirt track through the grasslands. Up ahead I could see a lone baobab tree sitting on some higher ground, it’s bare root like branches standing out against the cloudy sky.

This morning we had travelled from our camp in Mto wa Mbu in Northern Tanzania, out through the town and into the surrounding countryside, heading out to a Masai village to learn about their culture and way of life. The calm of the morning and the beauty of the countryside kept us all fairly quiet as we made our way to the village, and as we headed up the rise and past that lone baobab, our vehicle stopped near a high fence that looked like a wall of thorny bushes. Inside that fence I could just make out the grassy tops of the Masai houses.

Rays of sunlight shine down on the grasslands near a Masai Village in Tanzania

Rays of sunlight shine down on the grasslands

A baobab tree near a a Masai Village in Tanzania

A baobab tree near the village

The women from the village greeted us outside by performing a dance to welcome us into their village. For several minutes they danced and sang in their traditional dress in front of us, before inviting us to check out their home.

Masai women perform a welcome dance at a Masai Village in Tanzania

The Masai women perform a welcoming dance

A Masai girl with her baby brother on her back in a Masai Village in Tanzania

A Masai girl with her baby brother on her back

Their village was simple, with basic mud and straw houses and pens for their goats and cattle that are made out of thorny bushes. As our guide explained a little about the Masai, we were able to look around the village. The Masai men are allowed to have as many wives as they like, depending on the amount of cattle and goats that they own, and it is the woman that has to build their house for them and their children.

Cattle in a Masai Village in Tanzania

Cattle in their pen inside the village

A house in a Masai Village in Tanzania

Masai standing next to a house

Once we were welcomed into their village, the Masai performed some of their traditions to highlight their culture. Firstly, the men in our group were invited to join in a jumping competition with the Masai men. In Masai culture, the man who can jump the highest is the better warrior, and before I knew it I had a stick in my hand and was jumping for my life. I was worried that if I somehow managed to jump higher than the Masai man, I might end up with one of his wives! Luckily, it turns out that they are much more proficient at jumping than I could ever be.

Masai man jumping in a Masai Village in Tanzania

A Masai man demonstrates how they jump

Me jumping with the Masai in a Masai Village in Tanzania

Well…I gave it a go

Masai men jumping in a Masai Village in Tanzania

The Masai warriors show us how it’s done

Now it was time for the women to join in the fun, and they were dressed up with Masai necklaces to participate in some dances.

Masai women dancing in a Masai Village in Tanzania

The girls doing some traditional Masai dances

A young Masai woman in a Masai Village in Tanzania

A young Masai woman places a necklace on one of the members of our group

It was a real pleasure to be able to not only view, but participate in these traditions, and it really was something that I didn’t expect. It was a whole lot of fun!

Masai sandals in a Masai Village in Tanzania

Their sandals are made out of old car tyres

A goat herd in a Masai Village in Tanzania

The Masai children take the goats out to graze

After the excitement of the jumping and dancing, we were taken to explore more of the village and to continue learning about the Masai culture. They demonstrated how they make fire the traditional way by using donkey dung. The Masai man skillfully made a single ember with his tools, before placing it in the dry donkey dung and nurturing it to life.

Masai man making fire with donkey dung in a Masai Village in Tanzania

The Masai man places the ember into some donkey dung

Masai man making fire with donkey dung in a Masai Village in Tanzania

He carefully blows air into the dung and we soon have a flame

Finally, we were taken to a nearby house where a Masai woman was standing in her doorway. I was surprised and honoured to find that she was inviting us all into her home to see how the Masai live. The interior of the meager mud hut was very simple, with almost no light, a bare dirt floor with wooden seats around the interior and a bed platform for the whole family. There was a mud wood fire oven/stove for cooking their food, and this is almost entirely meat from their herds. The experience was humbling to say the least.

A Masai woman standing in her doorway in a Masai Village in Tanzania

A Masai woman stands in her doorway before inviting us into her house

I have to be honest. I expected this tour to a Masai village to be touristy and fake, but the truth is that this was a real experience. This village is supported by the tour company (Gap Adventures) in return for allowing their groups to see how they live. These people stick to their traditions, wear their colourful garments and graze their herds to support themselves, and it was wonderful to be allowed to experience all of this with them, if only for an hour or so.

I left this Masai village feeling very privileged.


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18 comments… add one
  • Natalie Nov 1, 2012

    To experience this just once in your lifetime is amazing

    • Dean Wickham Nov 3, 2012

      It is Natalie 🙂 This is an experience that I will always remember. Cheers

  • What an great article and amazing experience! Great photos too, those guys look like they’ve got some real spring ha! Also love the pic of the baobab tree, reminds me of the book, The Little Prince.

    • Dean Wickham Nov 3, 2012

      Thanks Remy. The people in this village were just lovely.

  • Liv Nov 3, 2012

    I’m always a bit wary of tours showing tourists how the locals live, especially when it is people who have ver littlThe masai look like they enjoyed seeing the foreigners too though, especially in the photo of you joining in! You’re right, what a privilege and humbling experience.
    Liv recently posted..Whale watching in Western AustraliaMy Profile

    • Dean Wickham Nov 3, 2012

      Hi Liv. I’m of a similar mindset when it comes to this sort of thing, but the people seemed very happy to have us there and to show us how they live. I think if this sort of thing is done right then it can be great for both parties.

  • Peter Lee Nov 3, 2012

    From this post I realised traveling is not about just fun, it is a learning experience. We never give a thought about these people in our busy schedule. But after reading your post realised life is not a bed of roses , I just can’t believe how these people manage to stay calm and happy despite insufficient resources.

    • Dean Wickham Nov 6, 2012

      Hi Peter. I honestly believe that travel is the best education that a person can receive. You can learn a lot from seeing how the rest of the world lives, and often, I find the happiest people are those that have very little.

  • Carly Nov 7, 2012

    Great post, I was in Tanzania last year when i climbed Kilimanjaro for charity. Afterwards we had a few days to visit a Masai village also, great experience…Although one Masai man was constantly touching my hair (I’m a red head, i guess they don’t see many of those!), one of the girls i was with thought she should rescue me as it looked like he was grooming me for his next wife!!

    • Dean Wickham Nov 13, 2012

      That’s hilarious Carly, you must have impressed him! 🙂 I bet that’s become a great travel memory of yours. Did you enjoying climbing Kilimanjaro? I loved it!

      • Carly Nov 13, 2012

        Kilimanjaro was a great experience, it’s weird because after summitting i was so eager to get off the damn thing, but now i’m itching to go back! By far the best section was climbing the Barranco wall!
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        • Dean Wickham Nov 14, 2012

          I felt much the same way. The Barranco Wall was a lot of fun! It was a lot easier than I thought it would be as it looked so daunting from the bottom.

  • Cam Nov 9, 2012

    I lived in Kenya when I was 12 years old and my mom & stepdad got married the traditional Masai way. Even though it was mostly fabricated, it was quite the experience. Your pictures remind me of the period. Would love to return one day as an adult.
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    • Dean Wickham Nov 13, 2012

      Wow that must have been a great experience, and certainly an interesting way of getting married. I’m glad this brought back some memories for you Cam. Cheers

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