The Maasai People

The Maasai are a proud people with a rich cultural tradition. They continue to live in some of the harshest savannah conditions with poor access to education, medicine and other benefits of the more developed areas.

Our communities are based around cattle and the semi-nomadic pastoralist way of life. We have been romanticised in much Western media, and the iconic spear-wielding warriors with their herds on the vast plains, and beautifully be-jewelled women, are classic safari images. And these images are not without some credibility. We are tough and have adapted well for life in these harsh conditions, (particularly the women who are tasked with the majority of the domestic work), and we’ve maintained many of our customs in the face of continued development and change in Kenya.

But in some ways our pride and resilience, which has helped us to survive, works against us, because defending our culture makes us suspicious and resistant to intervention and ideas from the outside world. And not all of our cultural practices are ‘good’ ones.

 

Women In Maasai Society

Within our society women have a subservient position. Girls are often married-off for dowry, from 12 years of age, to much older men, many of whom have several other wives. In a society where the virtues of a Western style education are not rated highly (even for boys), educating girls is hardly considered at all. The law, as it is, states that all children should receive primary education but in practice, in the remote rural areas, girls receive very little, and those that do get a few years are withdrawn from education to be married or work at home when they are 11 or 12 years.

At around the same age (11-15 years) female circumcision is performed as an important part of the ceremony marking transition from girl to adult woman. It is a severe operation involving removal of the clitoris and labia. It is performed by older women in un-hygienic conditions without any anaesthetic and with rudimentary tools (razor blade or sharpened piece of iron).

It is against this background that we saw a need for our project.