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Posts Tagged ‘Maasai women’

 “No journey carries one far unless, as it extends into the world around us, it goes an equal distance into the world within.” Lillian Smith.

A Maasai community -- one set up to show tourists how the Maasai live -- welcomed us with a dance. -- Photo by Pat Bean

African Safari :

There’s a scene in the 1962 John Wayne movie, “Hatari,” in which co-star Elsa Martinelli, dances with Maasai women. In the dance, the women jump up and down making their wide, bead collar necklaces bounce.

Graceful I was not, but one of my best memories of Africa was getting to dance with my Maasai sisters. -- Photo by Kim Perrin

I had long thought that would be a fun thing to do. In what was pretty much a recreation of the movie scene, Kim and I watched a group of Maasai women dance and jiggle their bead collars for us when we visited a model Maasai community as part of our guided tour activities. .

The native leader of the small group, which lived in traditional, dark, dung and twig huts built by the women behind a barricade of thorn bushes to keep out wild animals, asked if someone wanted to dance with them. And then he approached Kim.

I was crest-fallen because he hadn’t approached me. .

But Kim, who has never been quite the ham that I am, shook her head and stepped back. Before he could ask anyone

An impala quietly grazes near the Maasai village. -- Photo by Kim Perrin

else, I eagerly stepped forward and volunteered.

What had looked so easy watching the women get that necklace bouncing wasn’t easy at all to accomplish. My collar ornament barely moved at all.

But then the beautiful bald-headed woman standing next to me gave me a quick lesson, and soon my necklace was bouncing up and down, too – although not with quite the rhythm and grace as those of my African sisters.

After the dance, I bought one of the collar necklaces that was handmade in the village by one of the women. It was the only souvenir I bought for myself on the entire trip.

It was such moments as dancing with the Maasai women, along with watching a leopard stalk a gazelle, adding new birds to my life list, and gazing at Africa’s amazing sunsets at the end of a long day, that drilled a piece of Africa into my heart.

That piece, now four years old, is still there and shining bright with memories.

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 “Daylight follows a dark night.” – Maasai proverb

A group of Maasai women getting ready to dance for us. They live in a model Maasai community set up for tourist visits. -- Photo by Pat Bean

African Safari: A Hard Life for Women

It was the opportunity to see African wildlife, lions, leopards, elephants, giraffes and all the rest, that brought me to Africa. Kim and I came, or so we have been told, just in time to get at least a tiny glimpse of the continent as it once was.

The poachers, the developers, the fur trade, the masses of humankind are fast changing Africa, with many animals pushed to the brink of extinction – just as the buffalo, wolf and other wildlife numbers came near extinction as settlers moved west across America.

And just as our country finally and wisely set aside land to protect American’s spectacular landscapes and wildlife, Tanzania and Kenya have created national parks to do the same. But the conservation efforts have had a devastating effect on the Maasai, a nomadic tribe that formerly lived and grazed their cattle on what is now protected lands.

The Maasai were once famed warriors of legend who fought all comers – both to maintain their hold on their lands and to capture more. Their downturn began at the beginning of the 20th century when the British reduced their holdings by 60 percent to make way for their own settlers.

And in the 1940s, most of the Maasai’s remaining fertile cattle-crazing lands were confiscated and set aside as wildlife sanctuaries – conservation efforts I applaud. .

The Maasai leader of the model community sitting in his home of sticks and dung as he explained the Maasai lifestyle to Kim and I. -- Photo by Pat Bean

But I also feel said for the the Maasai fallout, which appears to me very similar to what happened to our own native Americans when white settlers moved in and began to dominate our own landscape.

The solution to the Maasai problem, as proposed by the Kenya and the Tanzania goverments, is for the Maasai to give up their nomadic way of life and assimilate with the rest of the country. While it seems a bit heartless, based on what we saw of the Maasai lifestyle, I agree.

Kim and I often saw many Maasai men wandering aimlessly along the roadsides in the Serengeti, and many very young boys herding a few cattle or goats as we traveled. The women, however, were left to build their stick and dung homes, gather firewood unprotected in lands where lions roam, transport water long distances, and to do everything else necessary to maintain a very meager hold on life.

Not only is the Maasai infant death rate high, many women die in childbirth as well because of the primitive conditions in which they give birth, and because of the lack of medical help. .

Bilal was uncharacteristically outspoken about the “lazy Maasai men,” and frequently expressed concern for the Maasai women. Kim and I certainly felt the same way about them.

I know it’s presumptuous of me, who spent only two weeks in Africa, and most of that wildlife watching in the national parks, to comment on such an emotional ethnic issue. But it was part of the experience. And I feel strongly that it should be shared. .

Recalling those observations, and the emotions that even now they continue to stir, I unashamedly weep for my Maasai sisters.

Next: Bird sightings on the drive from Lake Manyara and the Serengeti

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Maasai women look on as men of their village demonstrate their jumping skills. -- Photo by Pat Bean

“The great thing is the world is not so much where we stand, as in what direction we are moving.” Oliver Wendell Holmes

Journeys

While drinking my morning coffee, I read that today was International Women’s Day. My first thought was how the world has changed for women during my time on this earth.

I’ve gone from marrying young and being barefoot and pregnant to being a homemaker who also brought home the bacon – if you can call that progress. I successfully fought for equal opportunity and equal pay in the workplace. Today, I take pride in the role I played so my granddaughters can take such things for granted. .

And then I remembered the Maasai women I had seen in Africa just three years ago. These beautiful women have such hard, difficult lives that our native guide, who was not a Maasai, expressed sorrow for them – and called their men lazy turds. This remark came every time he saw a man walking carrying nothing and a woman walking behind him loaded down with water or firewood.

It is the Maasai women who build the mud and dung huts for the family. It is the women who walk miles every day for water and firewood, unarmed among dangerous wildlife. It is the women who milk the cows and cook the food and tend the children. And yet it is the men who own everything.

This young girl, looking on at the jumping men, is surely thinking she can do that, too. -- Photo by Pat Bean

This young girl, looking on at the jumping men, is surely thinking she can do that, too. -- Photo by Pat Bean

While I appreciate ethnic cultures, this is one aspect of the Maasai way of life that needs to be changed. And I make no apology for saying that.

I definitely thought this after a visit to a Maasai village in Kenya, where the men demonstrated a game they played with stones then noted that it was too difficult for the women to master. I was not impressed and huffed off.

But then a young girl in the tribe offered me hope that change might already be sniffing at the men’s heels.

It happened when the men were showing off their jumping skills, something young boys began practicing almost as soon as they can walk. Off to the side, where the shaved-head Maasai women stood quietly looking on, a young girl, ignoring the disapproving looks coming her way, jumped in rhythm with the men.

She, I thought, was the beginning. I hope one day she will be able to look back on how far she’s come, too.

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