Maasai Mara, Kenya
We left the hotel before dawn to catch the early morning activity. A jackal was tearing at the remains of a wildebeest, while buzzards and Marabu storks patiently awaited their turn. We found the lions, including several young cubs, sleeping in a nearby bush. On our afternoon drive, we found a male lion sleeping contentedly on his back, next to a freshly killed buffalo. The lionesses slept nearby, while the cubs frolicked in the bushes. We ride standing in converted minivans in which the top pops open. The lions seem oblivious to our presence.
The diversity of animals in East Africa is a testament to God’s creation. There are 20 species of antelopes alone, and a couple dozen species of related herbivores. Each is adapted to a slightly different pattern of grazing, mating, running or hiding. Herds are enormous, due to the consistency of food and water in this area.
The Maasai people occupy most of the non-developed land in the Rift Valley south of the Mombasa to Uganda railway that passes through Kijabe. Due to their reputation as warriors, the interior of Kenya was not developed by Europeans until the 1890’s. Many of the Maasai continue to live in the iron age, maintaining a semi-nomadic, herding lifestyle similar to that of Abraham and Isaac. The women make huts of sticks, mud and cow dung, while the men herd sheep, goats and cattle in the open range. Simple knives and spears are fashioned by a blacksmith over an open fire. They wear bright colored fabrics and beaded jewelry. The men always wear a red shawl or blanket, called a shuka, to demonstrate their bravery and frighten off wild animals. At night, they bring the herd into a corral that is within the circle of huts. A stockade of sticks surrounds the huts, and three warrior stand guard at night to spear an lion that threatens the clan or the herd.
Their diet consists primarily of fresh cow’s milk, mixed equally with blood collected from the jugular vein. In colder weather, they keep one cow in the family hut to milk and bleed for breakfast. Once a week, they may supplement with a goat, but they routinely eat no fruits or vegetables, except when they leave the community.
By the age of 5, most children are strong enough to walk the several miles to school. Weekends, the children are responsible for herding, and they can often be seen leading herds of cattle as tall as the child. Traditionally, the boys left the community at age 14 to form an adolescent clan for several years. They collect cows, which are the primary determinant of wealth, as well as wives. The dowry is typically ten cows per wife. Remarkably, some students will finish secondary school and a few will attend college, yet choose to return to this simple life.
I wonder who has greater worries? The simple herder, or the overextended westerner?
Mike Armstrong, MD