Meeting the Maasai face to face in the heart of Africa |

Meeting the Maasai face to face in the heart of Africa

Kaitie Hilborn
Special to the Daily
Special to the Daily/Katie Hilborn

Editor’s note: This is the second in a two-part series chronicling Katie Hilborn’s travel to the Maasai Tribe. In the first part Hilborn befriended a young Maasai woman and joined the young woman’s family for a traditional Maasai meal in Arusha, Tanzania.

Upon my homecoming, they had agreed to take me out to one of their distant relatives who had been living in a primitive Maasai village a couple hours outside of Arusha. I was anticipating the adventure. Neima’s brother Manase, which means Born Again in Maasai culture, volunteered to drive me.

We packed up my belongings on to his dirt bike, and commenced the journey to the tribal villages. Within minutes, it was apparent that we no longer encompassed the safety net of the city. In every direction that I gazed, golden grassy plains extended well up to the horizon line. “Are you sure you know where you are headed Manase?” I asked apprehensively. “Of course I do, I’ve been out here a hundred times!” he exclaimed. Deep down, I had wished it was Neima that was taking me to the tribes. With her, I had somehow felt safer, but there was no turning back now. I would have to trust Manase, because he was now my lifeline; my only translator and my only form of transportation. Neima put me in his care, so I would have to accept it.

Minutes soon turned into hours, and with every passing thought, I had wondered when we would arrive. I was doing everything your mother always tells you not to. Going miles and miles into the middle of nowhere with some man you just met. But finally, to my delight and a now restored faith in Manase, we were there.

After the initial shock of my appearance and existence carried off with the wind, I was able to settle in before nightfall. I set up my 2-man tent next to one of the huts while the villagers were constantly hanging around me wanting to see what I was about. Manase was the only person who could speak English and became my translator for the weekend.

We spent the remaining hours of daylight herding sheep, and passing the peace pipe; which consequently put me in an incredibly magical metaphysical world of reality. Everything about the culture seemed to come together and I eventually, with time, came down to their level.

The women in the tribe had never even seen something as simple as a car and were afraid to approach me in the beginning. I would attempt to speak in Maasai language and it took them a while to even comprehend that I was conversing in their own words. When Manase finally informed the villagers that I was speaking their dialect, they immediately started laughing as soon as the unexpected connection was made!

It’s a very traditional culture. The women are married at 14 and are owned by their husbands who pay 5-10 cows for them depending on how attractive they are. The more wives a man has, the more money he has. It’s all a status thing. You are more respected in the clans if you have more women. The roles of each are primitive; the wife cooks three meals a day which take about two hours to prepare. In between cooking, they fetch water at the well (which is about 3 miles away), clean, hand-wash the laundry and somehow manage to care for the children. The husbands build things, work in the fields, or try to find work at the nearby Tanzanite mines. The children’s jobs are to attend to the herds – which usually consist of sheep, goats and cattle. When I told one of the men that in America everything is done equally between men and women (such as we both go to work, take care of the children, and we both clean and cook)… he was absolutely flabbergasted. He couldn’t comprehend a notion such as equality; I thought he was about to have a heart attack. The elder just shook his head gazing down at the ground contemplating such a scenario.

While the tribes are extremely primitive – such as no running water, no electricity, no health care – everyone seemed to be quite happy with their lives. They don’t have anything to compare it with and most don’t realize that a completely different world exists just a mere 90 km away in Arusha. The rainy seasons are the worst they informed me, because that is when most villagers die. The mud is so bad that if someone is sick, they unfortunately can’t transport them to a doctor. It broke my heart.

My time spent with the Maasai people was wonderful and offered insight. I learned so much about their culture that would be nearly impossible to figure out from a textbook or in the classroom. I learned about sustainable development and how to live off the land. They care nothing of material things, but more so of the people they surround themselves with. The way of life for the Maasai has been consistent throughout the generations; handing down cooking and farming techniques are valuable resources. I am almost certain that it will be such cultures that will prevail and thrive for the centuries to come. We can learn a great deal from the simple people of this world.

Katie Hilborn is a freelance travel writer and Breckenridge local. She has backpacked or volunteered in 17 countries on five continents. Hilborn has written articles for USA Today

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