Jun 26

Peoples of the Crater

by in Africa, Tanzania

I see Maasai!

The Maasai are a tribe in Africa. The Maasai (Mah-Sigh) have many interesting customs and we were lucky enough to get to learn about them up close. Just a few days ago we visited a Maasai village.

We were outside a massive crater made by a collapsing volcano; the technical term is a “Caldara”.

The Maasai villages are around the crater, where they have been for generations, even before the volcano turned into a Caldara. 

On our way to visit a village, we saw three boys walking along the road with painted faces.  They had recently completed the circumcision ritual to become warriors and now they had to stay out of the village for several months to train and heal and learn Maasai ways.

When we arrived at the village, we were greeted with a traditional greeting dance. Some women came out and stood in a line with the ends slightly curving in, and began to sing. While they sung, they moved big beaded disks they had around their necks back and forth. Suddenly, a bunch of men came out of the village. They arranged themselves into a two column line and started their dance while the women continued singing. The men marched right near us, right around us, and right through us. Their chant was occasionally embellished with sudden hops from one of the men or a little shriek from this one line leader, who carried a brightly colored shield and wore purple cloth and a headdress.

When the dance was over, we stepped into the village, and I immediately noticed that the women and men were all waiting in formation in the middle of the clearing. We were told it was a competition between the men and the women to see who could jump higher. Our guide offered to take pictures with our camera, so we were able to just enjoy the competition.

NO competition whatsoever! The men were getting their waists up to their friend’s head height! The women were getting their shoulders to their friend’s head height. PLUS, the men are taller!!!

When they were almost done, the men asked me if I wanted to try. Well, you know my family. I was pushed up there before I could do anything about it. I was handed a club and then I began to jump. My family says I got respectable air, and looking at the pictures I saw that I got my middle chest up to the Maasai Man Head Height, or MMHH, or M²H²!

After the dancing was all done and over, we went with smiles to see the Maasai huts. Maasai huts have a wooden skeleton which is covered with grass and cow dung to make walls. The roof is a latticework of branches covered with grass. The huts have a few small holes in the wall and roof so light can filter in.

We entered one woman’s hut (she was outside) and Katherine and I sat on one bed, Dad sat on another, and Mom and our guide sat on plastic buckets with lids.

Our guide then proceeded to tell us all about Maasai customs. (The embers of the fire were still glowing, which shows good fire skills).


  • The woman makes the house, cooks, cleans, and makes the clothing and handicrafts.
  • The man looks after the cattle and protects the village.
  • Whenever the men get meat, they do not share it with the women, and the men eat it out of the women’s sight, believing that if the women see them eating they will get stomach aches.
  • However, whenever an animal is slaughtered, different parts of the animal go to different groups of people based on nutrients and taste. (Warriors get nutritious parts, Elders get the tender meat of the head, and Women get the internal organs such as the intestines…)
  • Maasai do not eat vegetables. They believe that that is food for animals.
  • You can take as many wives as you wish.
  • Women can only have one husband.
  • You must give the wife’s family 10 cows for you’re soon to be bride.
  • There can only be one wife per hut.
  • The philosophy is: “Many cows, many children”.

So basically that means that if you have many cows and many children to take care of them and pass on your legacy then you are a rich and much respected man.

  • For protection, the Maasai use clubs and sticks and a small knife.
  • The Maasai have talking sticks, which they can use for drumming, or if need be, protection…but they usually use them at discussions and meetings. The person who has the stick talks, everyone else is silent.
  • You go to school for as long as you can, and if you flunk out at some point you come back to tend the cattle.
  • The Maasai’s main staple is milk, milk mixed with animal (cow or goat) blood, and occasionally blood cooked in to a porridge. They also eat meat (sheep, goat and on very special occasions, beef.)
  • When you are 13-22, your generation will be circumcised. The operation is done with a sharp stone, in front of 100+ people, and you cannot move, flinch, make a sound, or blink for the whole 2-3 even 4 minutes!
  • When you are circumcised, you graduate from the much picked on rank of Eland, to a Warrior. Eland’s, or un-circumcised boys, are even lower than girls.
  • If you move during the operation, everyone throws ash on your mother, and it is recognized that she has failed to produce a warrior and the family is worthless and everyone is embarrassed.
  • Warriors would defend the villages against wild animals and would raid other Maasai villages for cows, and then defend when the village was raided.
  • Warriors wear red cloth. They do this for two reasons. The first reason is that any blood will not show up on you because of the red cloth, if it showed up, the enemy would think they were winning and we become invigorated. Reason #2, is the fact that during battle, there is a lot of blood. Cow blood, and human. Naturally, a lot of blood, even if it is not yours, will rub up against you. As just as you don’t want the enemy to think that they are hitting you, you don’t want your own men to think that they are losing and get demoralized.

Our Maasai guide had made it to college.

Leaving the hut, we went over to the woman who owned the hut’s stall and bought a few souvenirs.

Then…DUNT-DUNT-DUNNN! A bunch of little children came out to see us. Well my mom was instantly at her purse and she proceeded to hand out candy bracelets and necklaces to all the children she saw, putting them on their cute little wrists. Earlier our guide had said that there were 120 people in the village. His father was the chief and he had eleven wives. He and his siblings were 44 in total. By my estimation, that meant that there were about 66 children! I muttered to Dad, “This can only end in a candy shortage.” He agreed.

Soon my mom was out of candy, but only one person didn’t get anything because not all the children came. Thankfully she didn’t seem sad as she skipped away, probably because we only encountered her as we were walking out of the village.

When we got back into the car we asked our tour guide, Everest, how long we had taken. We were originally planning to spend forty minutes. He said that we had taken over an hour. I was shocked! It hadn’t felt that long at all. But as I say, time tends to fly when you’re with the Maasai!

Later on in our trip, we went to the Lewa camp in Northern Kenya. Here a Maasai warrior named Simon was our guide and taught me how to shoot a bow. Another man, named Karmushu, was a Junior Maasai Elder, and he taught me how to throw a spear! I can shoot the arrow a long distance, and my spear stuck in to the tree and came out with red sap on it (!!!).

Lucy! I’m home!!!

We had a quick visit to Odupai Gorge before the Maasai village. At the gorge we learned about the work that the Leakey’s had done on ancient man. The gorge had five layers of sediment, each layer having fossils and skeletons from a different time period. This made it a perfect spot to research evolution.

Not only did the gorge yield the remains of some truly massive ancestors of modern day creatures, but it also contained an ancient fossilized path with footprints of what is thought to be about “Lucy” era hominids.


Apparently, a volcano had recently erupted. The ground was covered with hot ash. Three hominids came along, a female in front with a male close behind and another male a bit farther back. The threesome was walking slowly, probably because of the hot ash. The hominids were more human than monkey, because a monkey’s big toe sticks out at an angle to help grab branches, and a human’s big toe sticks forward to help push forward.

The hominids could have walked on four limbs, but the shock absorbing arch of their feet allowed them to stand up.

There were also tracks of a three toed horse-like animal, a giraffe and assorted small creatures crossing the tracks of the hominids.


Just a few quick facts about the townspeople near the Angoro-Angoro Crater.

  • They are called the “Iruk”.
  • They are farmers and grow lots of corn.
  • Their houses are built out of sticks and the local mud, which is an orangey-red color.
  • They are westernized. (Gas stations, electricity, barbers, Christian churches).
  • They like to wear colorful clothes.
  • Both sexes shave their heads.



2 Responses to “Peoples of the Crater”

  1. From Charlie:

    Our Geography teacher who spent a lot of time in Kenya and Tanzania told us about the jumping contests and cow blood in class and even showed us pictures a lot like yours. Weird right.

    Posted on 09. Jul, 2011 at 9:42 pm #