The greatest test of bravery for young Maasai men was to face a lion. Lion hunting by the Maasai was not a trophy sport, but rather a rite of passage governed by strict customary laws. Today, Maasai lion hunting is outlawed in East Africa. File photo: Pixabay
The greatest test of bravery for young Maasai men was to face a lion. Lion hunting by the Maasai was not a trophy sport, but rather a rite of passage governed by strict customary laws. Today, Maasai lion hunting is outlawed in East Africa. File photo: Pixabay

From drinking cow’s blood to hunting lions - interesting facts about the Maasai

By Crispin Adriaanse Time of article published Aug 11, 2021

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CAPE TOWN, August 6 (ANA) - One of the most recognisable tribes of Africa are the Maasai people of northern Tanzania and southern Kenya, mainly due to their vibrant attire and close proximity to game reserves.

The Maasai have inhabited the East African region for four centuries and some of their traditions have persisted.

Lion hunting as a rite of passage

The greatest test of bravery for young Maasai men was to face a lion, according to NGO Maasai Association, which who supports the preservation and development of the Maasai people.

Lion hunting by the Maasai was not a trophy sport, but rather a rite of passage governed by strict customary laws.

For instance, Maasai warriors were prohibited from hunting injured lions as it displayed poor hunting skills. Lionesses were also prohibited from being hunted as Maasai culture viewed lionesses as the bearers of life for all species.

When the lion population was thriving, solo hunts by Maasai warriors were encouraged, but as they dwindled, group hunts or “olamayio” were preferred.

Today, Maasai lion hunting is outlawed in East Africa and lions will only be killed if they are a threat to the Maasai’s livestock, according to Micato Safaris, which has been operating for over 55 years.

Market economy is Maasai’s biggest threat

Even though the Maasai have resisted colonial powers and the establishment of independent Kenya and Tanzania, the greatest threat to their survival is the spread of the market economy, according to National Geographic.

The Maasai are migratory pastoralists as they herd cattle and in doing so roamed vast stretches of land in the East African region where their cattle grazed, Micato Safaris states.

The Maasai migrated according to the seasons, allowing the land to recover before they returned.

However, the spread of the market economy, especially privatisation, means the Maasai have been displaced from the majority of their communal land, which has been designated as wildlife conservation areas, National Geographic writes.

“Maasai pastoralists are barred at most times of year from accessing important grazing and water sources located within these sites, bringing about major disruptions to cattle migration patterns,” it continues.

The cattle migration disruption means herds have been reduced in size due to overgrazing of the available land.

“The largest loss of land, however, has been to national parks and reserves, in which the Maasai people are restricted from accessing critical water sources, pasture and salt lick,” Maasai Association says.

The self-sufficient Maasai are now also dependent on the market economy, where it is not uncommon to see young Maasai selling not only natural items but even cellphones in major cities of Kenya.

Drinking cow’s blood

Cows have been intertwined with Maasai culture from the very beginning, as has their careful management and sustainable use of land.

The status of Maasai men was measured on how many cattle they possessed and served as offerings for a bride’s price, National Geographic reveals. The men protected the cattle, guiding them to land to graze and water to drink as the women milked the cows and took care of the children.

Historically, cattle provided their main source of protein and nutrients. Even when lions were hunted, they were not eaten, Maasai Association says.

Cow’s blood specifically was saved for special occasions and as medicine. Those who had gone through circumcision or who had given birth would receive cow’s blood to drink. Elder Maasai drank it regularly, and it was also used to alleviate intoxication.

You can’t jump higher

The “Amadu” dance is a ritual where young Maasai men show off their strength by jumping multiple times in the air in order to attract a wife, according to Micato Safaris.

The Maasai men shout and cheer as they try to jump as high as they can, draped in the world-renowned bright colours of the “shuka”, digital platform pan-African reveals.

The colours worn are all symbolic: red is the sacred colour of the Maasai, which is said to protect them from wild animals; orange for hospitality; yellow for fertility and growth; and green is meant to symbolise nourishment.

Since Maasai men practise jumping from childhood with the intent to attract a wife, there is no doubt about the need to jump as high as they possibly can.

African News Agency (ANA)

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