22 January 2012

Mysterious Maasai

During our time in Tanzania we had many fleeting encounters with the Maasai. Mostly we glimpsed the men through our Land rover windows as they tended their herds of cattle and goats. They are prodigious walkers, well able to cover many kilometres in a day. Sometimes we saw them on bicycles, but wherever a Maasai tribesman goes, he will always have his herding stick. 

My photos were all taken from the Land rover.  Our sense is that the Maasai don't really like to be photographed. We travelled past a livestock market on a day when the men had gathered to barter.  On a hillside, their gaunt figures and colourful shawls created an interesting scene.

In fact, stop on the road in Maasai country and you may well be swarmed. Your vision of a character shot with the rondel hut in the background is likely to go unrealized. We tried once. Two young boys ran up to the vehicle and said, "Photo, photo?" when we stopped to take pictures of the wide plain where many Maasai lived.  In moments there were five people crowding around the window of our vehicle. They like to make cash by posing for pictures.  Make that standing for a picture because you can see this group wasn't particularly photgenic. Cost? One US dollar per "model". Lesson learned ... Go back to the telephoto.  

The number of huts will usually indicate the number of wives a man has. What is your estimate, based on this scene?

Fiercely independent, the Maasai have kept to their traditional ways to large degree.  Their herding lifestyle is sometimes in conflict with other land use values, especially wildlife reserves and parks.  They do not eat wild meat, so hunting or poaching is not the issue.  It's access to grazing lands and timber to make their traditional houses.  The government has tried to help by creating many large watering ponds around the Maasai territory to eliminate the need to move herds in search of water. This has encouraged the Maasai to stay in one place. We did see some working as doormen in a few Zanzibar hotels, though. The traditional robes still looked colorful, if a little out of place near the beach.

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