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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.