The Maasai – the facts
The very name conjures up strength, importance, elegance, arrogance – and some fascination and mystery……. Here are some Maasai facts you may or may not know:
- The Masai are the best-known tribe living in Kenya today – AND their numbers are increasing… in 1989 there were 377,089 and in 2009 the census put their numbers at 841,622, more than doubled.
- They traditionally drink a lot of milk – Together with animal’s blood. Yuck!
- High blood pressure, heart disease, obesity – these are all unknown in the Maasai tribe due to drinking all that special milkshake they drink shown above.
- The cholesterol level of an average Maasai is 50% lower than an average American.
- Traditionally, they drink soup laced with bitter bark and roots containing cholesterol-lowering saponins.
- They are tall! Very tall! The average height of an adult male is over 6ft. Compare this to 5ft 9ins in the UK.
- They speak Maa – though they are also educated in other Kenyan languages, Swahili and English.
- The Masai lands are near the big games parks in East Africa.
- They are a patriarchal society – but traditionally, it was the women who built their houses!
- Although farmers and semi-nomadic, nowadays the Maasai run shops, restaurants, sell milk, embroidery and jewellery and work as tourist guides.
- The Maasai are polygamous – but it works both ways! Women can also have more than one husband – polyandry.
- The women are talented in singing and dancing – and love putting on a show!
- Earlobe stretching and piercing are a tradition with the Maasai – but, this is now dying out, especially with the young men
- They shave their heads as they move from one chapter of their life to another
- Beadwork is an important part of the Maasai culture and the women make beautiful intricate patterns. Before contact with Europeans, beads were made from natural materials such as clay, shells, ivory and seeds. Now glass beads and plastic are used. Leather can also form part of the jewellery design, with the Maasai men being responsible for raising cattle which is used for this purpose.
- The Maasai wear their extraordinary beadwork for special occasions and a traditional Maasai wedding is truly something to behold! A bride wears beautiful, very elaborate beadwork and all the community takes part in making the beadwork and dressing the bride.
- Bead-making adheres to strict rules. Beads are classified as either being primary or secondary colours. White, red, green, blue and orange are the primary colours; while yellow and black are the secondary. Women can exchange orange for yellow if they run out and blue for black; however, it would be an embarrassing mistake if a primary colour were place next to a secondary one!
- There are many examples of this types of artwork with our Kenyan Jewellery. One being the Friendship Bracelets which are an example of beading and leatherwork. Others are the Terracotta Necklaces seen below.