Camouflaged in a dusty, Tanzanian winter landscape a Maasai village seemed to have appeared out of nothing. Everything the eye could see was covered in hues of brown – the landscape, the village, the huts, the local faces and their primitive curio shop. It was dull, but beautiful.
As a first-time visitor to Tanzania, my expectations of the Maasai culture were unidentified. I’ve been to countries like Zambia before, but as we know, no culture is ever the same. I did however not expect what happened next.
From a very primitive looking village came a group of about twenty Maasai men and women, all dressed in traditional attire. Buffalo and antelope imitations and sounds drew closer as they leaped and stamped up and down towards our tour group. An older woman took me by the hand and pulled me into the group of dancing locals; her eyes inviting me to leap and stamp along. Unfortunately, I was in no way able to identify the rhythm, so I just hopped and plodded along without any timing or tempo. In this traditional dance, the Maasai imitate local animals with jumps and sounds that are truly remarkable and an absolute privilege to witness. The men then had what seemed to be a mini contest to see who is able to jump the highest. For people who live from milk and blood I cannot, for the life of me, understand how they can soar that far above the ground.
The chief’s son invited us into his hut and I only then realized how organized this village tour appeared to be. We sat in the dark hut, listening to him explaining more about the Maasai culture, and how the rest of the tour will ensue. Everything seemed to have been planned in detail for every tour group like we as South Africans would do with our tours. He mentioned that we will have the opportunity to see the village’s school (for the little ones) and then browse through the village women’s “curios shop” and pick the items we’d like to buy. They would then make a price depending on the amount of items we were to buy. I almost felt compelled to buy something, which made me wonder how much of the whole experience was really still original and how much of it was just an act?
Tanzania has developed quite a bit over the years and I do believe that the Maasai people must have had a lot of influencers, including tourists from all over the world. They’ve had people staying among them, tourists visiting them and people trying to uplift and educate them. So how much of the Maasai Village feel is real?
The experience was still very informative and interesting and it is clear that they portray the typical traditional Maasai village very well. I just speculate, sometimes, how many of their traditions are actually still practiced when the tourists leave the village…