Part 4: Summary
Throughout the last four weeks, you have received some general information about the Masai tribe in Tanzania and Kenya. In Part 1, we discussed some history and general background information about the Masai tribe. In Part 2 and Part 3 three, we discussed our different experiences of the Masai tribe, and explained each of the events that we attended. In this final summary section, we will discuss our thoughts on the Masai tribe and what the future may hold for these people and their culture.
Our experience of the Masai was quite interesting. They way they have held onto their tradition and their culture is incredible! Often in the USA we find that history and tradition is lost over the generations; however, the Masai have been able to hold on to the majority of their traditional lifestyle while Western technologies have influenced other native tribes. Interestingly enough, their tradition is slowly giving in to Western culture and modern technology.
We had mentioned in Part 2 that some of the individuals at the Masai Christian speaker event were taking our picture with their camera phones. One of our blog readers pointed out that they could not believe that the Masai had camera phones! There is an interesting crossroad of technologies embedded in the current Masai culture. On one side, they wear shoes made from car tires, wear their traditional clothing, and they still remove a tooth on their lower jaw in order to still be fed in case of lock jaw. On the other side, they have camera phones, televisions, and motorcycles.
They have still been able to maintain many aspects of their culture throughout many generations of living with Westerners. However, many of those traditions are slowly giving way to Western influence. Rituals and rites of passages, such as female circumcision, are frowned upon by Western society and are slowly becoming practiced less in the Masai community.
Another interesting factor is the development of Tanzania. While the Masai are known to live in harmony with nature, they are slowly being forced away from their homelands as those lands are developed into national parks. As a nomadic people, they would follow the rains and let their cattle graze on the open range. Now, there are set areas of land for the Masai to remain and they can no longer live their nomadic lifestyle.
Traditionally the Masai would raise only cattle and a few goats. In the name of development, many United Nations projects have been launched to assist the Masai in learning how to farm. In fact, in the Masai boma where we stayed before the singing event, they grew popcorn! They have a contract with a major popcorn company in Europe and grow most of the popcorn that the company sells. Reluctantly, the Masai people have conformed to development ideas from the United Nations and the European Union, and thus they now have some money to spend on things such as cell phones, televisions, and motorcycles.
This naturally led us to a question. Is it more important that a group of people maintain the way of life that they choose, or that they reach developmental goals that we set for them, such as the Millennium Development Goals? [For those who are unfamiliar with the Millennium Development Goals, following is a link for reference http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals/index.shtml.] We are not sure of the answer to this question.
There are many examples of people who have refused to conform to mainstream Western ideals and have chosen to live a different way of life. A few examples include the Irish Travelers, the Romanian Gypsies, and Amish communities. By definitions set by the United Nations, these groups are uneducated and poor. By their own definitions, each group is very satisfied with their way of life and they would like to continue living that way for generations to come.
These are very interesting questions for us, and we do not have an answer. According to “The Last of the Masai” by Mohamed Amin, et al., the Masai are slowly losing their culture. The authors explain that in the past few years the Masai have slowly conformed to Western technologies and capitalism. Most Masai now operate farms along with raising cattle. Many of the Masai in Tanzania have land on areas that happen to be rich in Tanzanite, natural gas, and gold. Obviously, the natural resources and the development of farms have led to an increase in income for many Masai. Financially this has surely benefited them, but their culture has suffered. As with anything, some change while others hold true to their traditions. Many Masai continue to live their traditional lives without conforming to Western ideals, for better or for worse.
With all of these thoughts in our minds, one thing remains true – we are incredibly happy to have been able to experience this wonderful culture and these phenomenal people before they become another long lost tribe in Tanzania. We are incredibly humbled to have been able to participate in these events and to have been welcomed so warmly by the Masai community. It was an unforgettable experience and we will be forever indebted to the communities who allowed us to experience their rich culture and ancient traditions.