The Real Experience Behind Maasai Tribe Village Tours
If, like us, back home you have watched wide eyed the impressive Maasai documentaries, you can only imagine the joy of seeing the Maasai Tribe in real life. We came up close with people from this semi-nomadic tribe, who live in Northern Tanzania and Kenya on our way to the Serengeti. They were all dressed in their colourful robes, intricate jewellery, sticks in hand, jumping sky high, singing traditional songs and they were also very attentive to make some very good money.
We have first seen men dressed in Maasai robes, wearing shiny glasses, with their hair all done, playing football on the beach and selling trinkets in Nungwi, Zanzibar. We were not surprised at all when our guides in Zanzibar all said that they were fake Maasai, and they just wanted to catch the tourists’ eyes, with the hope of selling one of their hand-carved souvenirs or hooking up girls who fall for their tribal looks.
As we drove from Arusha to Tarangire National Park, we got the first glimpses of the real Maasai tribe. They were a mix of what you would expect, wearing traditional robes, with their sticks and swords, and tending to their cattle, combined with what you do not expect, like riding motorcycles, bluetooth headphones and sporting smartphones. As one ventures closer to the Serengeti, it is not uncommon at all to meet Maasai people posing for photos and expecting tips.
We got to know them a bit better when we visited a boma (mud hut village) on our way to the Serengeti. It’s not like an alien encounter at all. Tour guides often take tourists to visit bomas where they are able to take photos, listen to Maasai stories, and buy trinkets. What took us by surprise is the business-mindedness of these people. One would tend to assume that these people are poor, because they make a living by herding cows, living in small mud huts, cooking over wood, and with particular sanitation arrangements. However, they totally challenged our definition of poor. Whilst they do play on poverty, so that people donate more, they really are not poor at all. They just live differently to us.
As soon as we arrived at the boma, we were greeted by the Chief’s son. Village people immediately gathered and they danced for us, whilst Noel was invited to jump with Maasai men and Dorianne and Corinne were given traditional women’s jewellery and shown how to dance.
It must be said that all three of us were totally hopeless at it!
Then, we were taken to the village school, a hut at the back of the boma, with a prominent tip box in the middle (another tip trap). The children, who were during a class, sang for us and one of the boys, maybe three years of age read the numbers up to forty in English!
I was surprised when a Maasai man, who had taken fancy to my watch and he asked if I would trade it for his bracelet. I figured, ‘He needs the watch much more than I do’ and this was not that expensive anyway. So I agreed to the lousy deal, only to get to know later that this is a tactic that has been used on other tourists before!
Our Maasai village guide, took us inside a traditional hut and explained how it is made up. Women in Maasai culture play a huge role. They are the ones who build huts out of cow dung, they take care of the family, cook and even walk for miles with the donkeys to procure water. And the men? They have the difficult job of tending to cattle and posing for photos all day long!
Maasai lives revolve around their herds of cattle. Cattle are currency for them, they mean richness and nourishment. They provide blood and milk which is the staple food for the tribe people and are also the currency for getting marriages arranged.
At the end of the tour came the real business! In the middle of the boma there is a sort of market with different stalls of jewellery and home decorative items. It’s difficult to escape buying anything from the market and Maasai bargaining skills are a killer! So, if you decide to buy anything from here, make sure that you bargain hard, as the prices they quote are beyond exaggerated and with us they still managed to make a hefty profit.
Since we had not planned the Maasai boma tour beforehand, we did not know what to expect. After we came back home, we researched to see if other people’s experience was like ours. It seems to be a pretty recurring theme as, cronic-wanderlust, theplanetd and many other bloggers have similar stories to tell. With Maasai tribe visits, be prepared to hang on tight to the cash in your pockets, as they will go to great lengths to make you part with it. Having said that, and although a visit to a Maasai village is a really touristic experience, it is still one worth doing. It’s not every day that we engage with a tribe of people who manage to prosper in the harsh environment of Oldupai Gorge, at the doorstep of the Serengeti!