The Masai are probably the most discussed tribe in the world. There has always been some sort of fascination for these noble, independent, and freedom-loving people. This has been due to the many writings, documentaries, and even movies like 'The White Masai'. Such tribes are to be found in the African region of Kenya, where one may also encounter other tribes like Samburu, Turkana, Pokot, Rendille, and Gabbra.
Where to Find Them?
When going on a safari trip, one of the main attractions seems to be seeing or even meeting the Masai people. They are to be found in the wild parks of Maasai Mara and Amboseli. This journey may either be regarded as a touch of real African continent, or if seen from other perspective ― the Africans being enforced to sell their own culture, values, and traditions to the Westerners and other people. The characteristics of their appearance are their red robes, usually wearing spears, braided hair dyed with ochre and adorned with lots of traditional jewels. They are generally admired for their dignified, graceful, impressive look, and their highly trained bodies.
Many western people consider the Masai and the Zulu as being the typical, archetypal tribes of Africa. For this very reason, they are being paid a lot of attention. This phenomenon seems to have started back in 1885, when an explorer named Joseph Thomson wrote a best-seller titled 'Through Maasailand'. Since this fascination with them has had many victims, some even gave it a name ― The Maasai-itis. Throughout the years, they were seen by some scholars as the 'Lost Tribe of Israel', due to their historical background. At any rate, this could also be applicable for other people in Africa (like Ethiopians for instance.)
Their Way of Life
The most astonishing fact is, that this tribe is capable to live in perfect harmony with nature, rejecting the elements and notions of western civilization. One of the things they seem to refuse is social inequity that always seems to occur in developed countries. They prefer keeping their ancient traditions and lifestyle, and the principle of sharing. They are proud of their spiritual inheritance and are unwilling to make compromise when it comes to modernization.
One of the most important aspects of their way of life is breeding cattle. These animals are their major source of food and are considered a highly important element in their culture. Cattle's importance is so deeply rooted in their minds, that they believe that all the cattle have been sent to the earth by God only for them. They also think, that they have the right to take cattle from other people, as they consider that the cattle had actually been stolen from them.
From the social point of view, the Masai are in favor of the principle of male domination and they practice polygamy. But this polygamy is mostly due to the high level of mortality in the case of infants and warriors. The fact is that a woman, most often marries her entire age group, and not one man. Another Masai practice is inheriting one's wife. An interesting thing is that their dwellings, which are called 'Manyatta', were initially built by women from wooden structures, mud, and cow dung.
From the religious point of view, they are monotheistic people. They believe in the existence of one God, whom they call Enkai/Engai. Yet this God has a double nature: a positive, loving side, represented by Engai Narok (The Black God), and a more vengeful side which they call Engai Nanyokie (The Red God). Their religious leader is the 'laibon' who can perform shamanist acts like prophecy, healing, bringing luck in wars or good weather for crops.
Nowadays, there are many Masai members who have turned to Christianity, and also just a few who have chosen the Muslim path.