1. Masai and Cattle The Masai believe that they were placed on earth by their God, known as Enkai or Engai, along with all of the world's cattle, ergo, they believe that all cows belong to them. The Masai's job or calling in life is to care for and be responsible for all cattle. The Masai's individual wealth is measured in cattle and cows are traded as currency.
2. Where are they from? The Masai originated in South Sudan and migrated south due to drought and the disease Rinderpest (or cattle plague) which was threatening their cows in the second half of the 19th century.
3. Masai Place Names A lot of places in Kenya were given names by the Masai:
Nairobi (the Maa meaning is 'cool place' - because of the cooler, high altitude climage)
Masai Mara ('spotted plain' due to the distinctive shape of the Acacia trees that punctuate the landscape)
Serengeti ('endless plain' - its vast!)
Nanyuki ('place of red soil' - it's very red and it's hard to get out of your clothes!)
Kijabe - ('windy place', Kijabe is located on the edge of the Rift Valley)
4. Masai Groups and Languages
Masai language is Maa and the strongly patriarchal culture is punctuated by a great many ceremonies. The Masai are split into 3 official groups in Kenya: Samburu, Njemp (a small tribe based around Lake Baringo) and the main group, Purko. They all speak Maa but with different dialects.
5. The Name 'Ole' means 'Son of'.
Family groups in Masai culture are very strong. Some family lines produce whole strings of tribal leaders. Young, uncircumcised youth greet their elders by bowing their heads (waiting for the head to be touched by a hand). They would never offer up a hand to be shaken. This would be considered too forward. There are tons of place and lodge names in Kenya called 'Ole' something....
6. What Did they Wear? When the first foreign settlers arrived in Kenya in the 19th century, The Masai resisted converting to Christianity or Islam. The Masai originally clothed themselves in cowskin (later sheep and goat hides after they were introduced to caring for these animals a alongside cows by colonial arrivals).
7. Where are Today's Red Shuka's from?
One strong theory is that the distinctive Masai shukas or red checked blankets worn today were introduced by Scottish regiments based in Masai areas, and are based on tartan designs. Once wearing these cloths caught on in the Masai culture, the red checked cloth was woven locally by Indian traders in their preferred red colour.
8. Why Red?
The Masai have always used to ocre to colour their skin red Why? To scare wild animals away from cows and to be identified by one another during a period when cattle rustling and inter tribal fighting was a problem.
*With special thanks to the Masai nature expert and wildlife guide 'Daniel' who I met at Ngerende Island Lodge in the Masai Mara. (He chose this Biblical name because of the story of Daniel in the Lion's Den, learned at school. Very apt I thought!).