Everything You Need To Know When Meeting The Maasai

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I was expected, it would seem, as I pulled up in the dirt covered 4×4.  The foot deep ruts that plagued our makeshift route had tested the suspension to the extreme.  It had been a long and hard day’s travel over to the north of the Maasai Mara National Park.

Walls of twisted spikes encircled the small village, pierced by a slither of light, just wide enough to squeeze through.  I pondered the perfect silence and curious lack of women and children, but dismissed it with thoughts they must be busy inside the village stockade.

A barricade of bare chested men waited in silence between the village and I, red tartan shukas prominent against brown skin and brown mud.  Each man grasped at a 7 foot high cane, thrust meaningfully into the ground.  The patriarch, with furrowed brows and stretched earlobes,was draped in many more strings of colourful tiny beads than his compatriots.

Full of smiles I started towards them, looking to greet them and thank them for their hospitality. My driver grabbed my arm and held me back.

‘Wait for them to invite you in’, he advised.

I looked at him confused.  Of course they were going to invite me in, I thought, I had arranged to come and learn about their way of life out in this remote part of the National Park.  Nevertheless, I heeded his advice and stayed put.

Without a cue the elder started a chant, echoed and repeated by the other men.  A formidable song, albeit one that I was unable to understand. Then with a hop, hop, skip they wound like a snake on a procession, slithering their way across the savannah closer to me.  Each skip of the dance followed by the cane being slammed into the ground, the unison and force in doing so adding a bass line to their melody.  

It seemed a very strange thing for a group of men to do, I stifled a giggle as they skipped around in front of me.  I had mistaken my giggle for amusement, but the reality that it was actually nervous laughter dawned on me.  The voices echoed across the vast plains, growing louder and more fierce as they drew closer.  There was nothing friendly about their approach.  It was terrifying and imposing.

Six feet in front of me they reformed their original line.  The whites of their eyes wide with menace, unblinking, staring right into my soul.

A new chant began, more stomping, and this time bouncing.  In a haphazard order, each man broke from the constant bouncing and leapt high into the air, howling as he did.  I have never seen a person remain so straight and tall, yet jump two foot into the air.   Each like a frog trying to jump out of a hot frying pan, but ever quite making it.

They crept towards me in this manner, growing louder and more fearsome until they towered over me. But this did not stop them, the pressed further forward.  Never touching me, but forcing me backwards with their presence.

I began to wonder what I had got myself into, and whether I could make it back into the jeep, and escape.

As abruptly as it began, it stopped.  The men formed a tight horseshoe around me, towering over me and staring with evil intent.  Silence.  Silence that lasted an eternity.  Too scared to speak, I stood there trembling.

A great roar of might broke out amongst the men and then they relaxed, breaking formation.  The elder smiled at me, stretched out his hand to shake mine.

‘Welcome to the village’ he said in perfect English. ‘I thought we would welcome you with our traditional war dance, so you can see how we used to greet rival tribes.  Come, let my son show you around’.


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