Denver Bar Association
October 2001
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Masai Village

by David Erickson

 
 

A trip to East Africa is full of surprises.

Editor’s note: This is an excerpt of a longer version of David’s trip to East Africa.

 

We had talked with Fred, our guide, several times about visiting a Masai village, so, that afternoon, upon leaving the gorge we drove west to the edge of the great Serengeti Plain.

During a lunch break under an Acacia tree, my wife Jeanne asked Fred about the circular scar under each of his eyes and he said: "The witch doctor did it. So I wouldn’t go blind." He offered no further explanation. His eyesight was certainly exceptional, though, as he easily pointed to animals at first invisible to us.

When we arrived at the village, Fred negotiated a payment that would allow us to enter, see the inside of some of the huts and take photographs. The payment he explained would be used "for medicine." The village consisted of about 15 small huts, in a circular compound surrounded by a fence of Acacia bush. The long, sharp and nasty thorns of the acacia effectively deter animal or human predators.

The huts, about 12 feet in diameter, were made of supple sticks, set in the ground and bowed over the top, then tied to form a roof. Dried grass is laid over the sticks and on top of the grass is spread a mixture of fresh cow dung and fire ashes which, when dry, make a hard and comfortable roof. Hut making is "woman’s work" among the Masai, along with the preparation of meals. The "warrior’s work" consists of tending cattle and protecting the village from outside threats. The wealth of a Masai warrior is measured by the amount of cattle he owns.

A young Masai warrior, who spoke fluent English, showed us around the village and then sat with us for a long time inside one of the huts. We talked about how the Masai live, what work they did and what they ate. Their diet—primarily beef, milk and blood—would definitely not meet the recommended daily food requirements in this country.

The hut had two rooms and the interior room was used for sleeping. The floor was hard packed earth and the only furniture, two dried and stretched cowhides tied at the corners, were suspended off the floor as small beds, or hammocks. There was a fire pit in the center of the room encircled by rocks. Above the fire pit was a small chimney hole in the dung-ash roof. There were no visible pots, pans or eating utensils and no decorations on the walls.

As we exited the hut, the warrior mentioned the recent drought and the problems it caused the village. I looked about and when I didn’t see a well I asked where the water came from and, pointing off in the distance, he said: "From over the mountain. The women get it." I looked in the direction he pointed and it seemed to me to be a long way, several miles at least. Then a thin woman emerged from a hut in front of us and began strapping a small jug, not over a gallon in size, to her back with a strip of cloth and the warrior stated: "She’s going to get water now."

Then the women of the village gathered and our warrior guide said we could take pictures. They all wore brightly colored body and head wraps, and were adorned with numerous beaded bracelets and necklaces. They offered some of the jewelry for sale and we bought several items.

Next, the young warriors of the village gathered. The Masai are tall and slender, with smooth clear skin, and all were dressed in bright red wrap distinctive of a Masai warrior. They had long wooden spears with steel points. They began to dance to the beat of a wood and skin drum. The dance consisted of much jumping and waving of spears, and they seemed to enjoy it immensely. "Too much testosterone," my wife remarked to our warrior guide, "I know, because I’ve got a son, too."

That evening we drove back to Arusha. Ahead of us were some long flights, from Arusha to Dar es Salaam, Dar es Salaam to Amsterdam, then Amsterdam to Detroit and Detroit to Denver. This would give us time to reflect that much of the world’s population still lives in small homes made of scrap wood or tin, with no running water or electricity. What we enjoy, expect and feel we have a right to receive in this country is a long way from reality in many other parts of the world.


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