Maasai: The nomads of Tanzania


Perhaps the best known of Tanzania tribes, the Maasai tribe, nomadic people whose style of life has remained essentially unchanged for generations. Even with education, civilization and western cultural influences, the Maasai people have held to their traditional way of life, making them a symbol of Tanzania culture.

Historically Maasai are a Nilotic people indigenous to the African Great Lakes region, their roots can be traced back to South Sudan. According to the oral narration, it is believed that the Maasai left their home in the Nile Valley about the 15th or 16th century, reaching the Great Rift Valley and Tanzania between the 17th and late 18th centuries. The Maasai speak Maa, an Eastern Nilotic language includes idioms related to Dinka, Nuer, Turkana, and Songhai.


Their daily life revolves around the constant quest for water and grazing land for their cattle. Their lifestyle centers around their cattle which constitutes the primary source of food. They believe that God gave them all the cattle in the world to watch over.

Maasai people have a patriarchal social structure, headed by a council of elder men (laibon) oversees the daily running of the village and govern community matters. The division of labors is categorized based on gender and age. From boyhood to adulthood, young Maasai boys begin to learn the responsibilities of being a man and a warrior (Morani). The main task of a warrior is to protect their animals from human and animal predators. Women are responsible for building kraals (houses), their homes are rounded by acacia thorns which prevent predators from attacking the cattle. Girls’ help their mother in taking care of their younger siblings, gather firewood, cook and handle most of the family’s other domestic responsibilities, boys responsible is to take care of the family’s cattle. The Maasai communities are most recognizable due to the brightly colored cloths and beaded jewelry, their unique style, and distinct culture draw the interest of international visitors.



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