The Masai - Introduction

The Maasai - sometimes also spelled Masai - are with distance Africa's most famous tribe. Unlike most other Kenyan tribes they, together with the Turkana and Samburu (who are closely related to the Maasai) have remained their traditional lifestyles - living like their ancestors have been doing for thousands of years. This is contrary to most other Kenyan tribes, who have adapted more western life styles.

women from the masai tribe, kenya

If you've ever watched any documentaries on the people of Africa, it's almost guaranteed that you have seen the this tribe with their great warrior tradition. These tribal people who live in the grasslands between Kenya and Tanzania are a popular topic and a favourite among travellers. They are recognized by their bright red clothing and beaded jewelry. Women typically wear large plate like bead necklaces, while the men typically wear a red-checked shuka (blanket) and carry a distinctive ball-ended club. Their jumping dances are famous. Through their dances and songs, the warriors show off their strength. Blood and milk are the mainstays of the Maasai diet, supplemented by a drink called mursik made from milk fermented with cows urine and ashes, which has been shown to lower cholesterol.

The Maasai people are very independent and their society revolves around each generation of men becoming warriors. Their customs are very specific, and involve many "coming of age" rituals, that include both the men and the women. The men protect the villages and the cattle, whereas the women build the houses, cook and maintain the households. The roles of the sexes are pretty balanced.

Living Like Their Ancestors

The history of the Maasai stretches back hundreds of years, and today they are living much the same way as they always have. Their herds of cattle are the most important thing they own, which is why they need so much land. They are nomadic people, who travel with their herds to find pasture. The Masai live almost exclusively off their cattle, eating meat, milk and even the blood of their cows. Agriculture and crop growing isn't normally part of their way of life, but is becoming necessary as their territory shrinks.

a young masai warrior, kenya

The Warrior Tradition

Warriors are of crucial importance. Each Maasai man goes through the warrior stage: a period in their life between boyhood and becoming tribe elders. The duty of a warrior is protecting the village and their cattle, while the women do most household and farming work.

They can only become a warrior through several rituals, including being circumsized and living apart of their families for many years. Only then can they have their own family. Warriors prove their strength through killing a lion with only a spear.

Their Religion

The Masai call their god Enkai, who is believed to appear in many forms and objects, among which are the moon, mountains and colors. An interesting point is that Enkai is believed to be both male and female – uncommon to many other religions.

A priest is called a Laibon. The priests are believed to descend from God – that’s why they have authority over religious matters. They are ascribed the power to give prophesies and to heal. More on the page about Masai culture.

Visiting Masai Land

A large portion of their traditional land has been used to create the Masai Mara National Reserve, which is a particularly hot spot for tourists looking to see some wildlife. A Maasai Mara safari is something every adventure traveller should try. Most tour companies will offer you a chance to visit one of their villages and see their culture for yourself. From all Kenyan national parks, this area offers you the best possibilities to see all the "Big Five" animals in one place. Tour guides can help you with translation. This is important as, contrary to the majority of Kenyans, the big majority of these traditional tribesmen don't speak English.

If you're looking for a one-of-a kind holiday, the Mara park is the place to go.

When planning any trip to the Masai Mara, try to arrange it so you can see the anual mass migration of the wildebeest in August-September. Seeing millions of animals galloping across the plains is an amazing experience. It's one of the greatest thrills of Africa, as you can see yourself in my movie gallery.

The White Masai

A great way to learn more about this tribe, is by watching the movie "The White Masai". This movie based on a true story, written by Corine Hoffman, a Swiss woman who married a Masai warrior and joined the tribal lifestyle. There’s no happy end – they can’t overcome their cultural differences and at the end she has to flee back home with their daughter.

Related articles about the Maasai:

Culture, religion and customs
The warrior tradition

Their cattle and it's importance

The White Maasai (movie)

Mara National Reserve

Maasai land

Holiday tours in the Mara area

Mara safari options


Maasai translations

Tribes in Kenya - Overview

Back to Homepage

Share this page:
Enjoy this page? Please pay it forward. Here's how...

Would you prefer to share this page with others by linking to it?

  1. Click on the HTML link code below.
  2. Copy and paste it, adding a note of your own, into your blog, a Web page, forums, a blog comment, your Facebook account, or anywhere that someone would find this page valuable.