The Maasai » The people »

The Maasai, traditionally shepherds, live in the open spaces of East Africa’s Great Rift Valley. This people belong to the semi-nomadic tribes. The Maasai live in Kenya and northern Tanzania, survivors of a past era, and they live more or less like their ancestors lived centuries ago. Their lives are based on the Solar Cycle – Sunrise/Sunset and on the change of seasons. They have never given up their semi-nomadic lifestyle and the livestock-farming as main means of support; they mainly raise cattle, goats and sheep. Consequently, their lives depend very much on the existence of water and of pasture for their animals.
Social organization within the Maasai tribes; the elders play a significant role in society, decisions and children’s education. These tasks are common so that any elder may give rules to children and punish a naughty kid. Children are taught respect for the elder and for ancient traditions. Therefore, children learn respect and traditional family life. During their first years of life, the girls’ life is joyful and unconcerned but, as soon as they grow up a little, they learn how to take care of housework while the boys learn how to take care of the animals. Parents pass on their knowledge about traditional medicines to their children, teaching them the Maasai rites and traditions, which concern each and every aspect of their lives.

Polygamy has no limits within the Maasai culture: men may have as many wives as they like, provided that they have a sufficient number of cows to be given to the wives’ original family as payment for their wife. The wife’s parents may decide a daughter’s marriage when she still is a child. The girl’s marriage contract is stipulated with an amount of cows. One of the important stages in a child’s growth is the moment when the elder men circumcise the young boy (during this ceremony, the boy is not allowed to let out any sound) and the elder women circumcise the girls (who are not allowed to cry). Women oblige the girls to be circumcised since it would be impossible to find a good husband for a girl if she has not been subject to circumcision. After having been circumcised, according to the Maasai tradition women are also obliged to keep their heads shaved.

These first indications already makes one understand which role is played by women within the Maasai community.
The women’s tasks are connected to all what involves home; the building of a hut, the collection of wood for the fire, the supply of water, the craftsmanship, the children’s upbringing. However, women do not take part to the community’s or family’s important decision making.
This is why our Maasai woman started an awareness campaign “thanks to the possibility she was given to go to school and after having created an organization with her brother”. This awareness campaign is directed mainly to women and also to the entire village, which became aware of the inborn value and potential of women, at the benefit of the entire community.

Therefore, the entire project was introduced and managed directly by her, until the board of the elders acknowledged that, having sent even a girl to school, has made it possible for all Maasai in that region to avail of the benefits produced by this project.
At the beginning, there were separate meetings: Susan with the women and her brother with the men. Now she has the possibility to speak to the elder men as well and she is looked at with admiration by the women and especially by the young girls, who understand that their role within the community might become more important and that there are better hopes for them to decide on their own lives.