Maasai Village Visits

Old May 25th, 2006, 08:33 PM
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Maasai Village Visits

I did the Tanzanian Northern Circuit in March (sorry, just can't seem to get my trip report together). For those of you that have visited Maasai villages, what were your impressions? I was so completely overwhelmed by what I was experiencing at the time of my visit, I remain uncertain of the true experience. Was it all just a tourist attraction? I remember feeling like I had just visited Mars when we drove away. Any thoughts, comments? I have been back almost two months and still find myself thinking..."did that really happen?" Upon entering the village I was thrilled to have the women gather around, pull me in...I remember thinking...Wow, this is just like in the movie Hatari! But I also remember shortly thereafter feeling completely overwhelmed and desperately wanting to escape. Love to hear your thoughts, experiences!
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Old May 25th, 2006, 09:16 PM
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We hope to be in Tanzania next February and are really keen to visit villages and see how the people live. Was your visit part of a tour ? Was this a village that was regularly visited by tourists ? How long were you there and what did you get to see ? I'm really interested in this aspect of a trip to Africa and hope we can get to see a bit of everyday African village life.
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Old May 25th, 2006, 10:52 PM
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countingdown - no experiences on my part, but seeing and experiencing something unique would seem part of the cultural experience. Not everyone may be comfortable with it though. To me getting an understanding of local culture is part of appreciating a new country.

Galiano - maybe Eben will join this discussion, he'd some great input here. Patty shared some ideas for my trip when I'd asked about getting a view of Mt. Kili. Shamelessly copied her notes from my thread and posted here (thanks Patty ).

Author: Patty
Date: 04/09/2006, 12:20 pm
You can enjoy game viewing plus views of Kili on the Tanzanian side in the West Kilimanjaro area. See Eben's slideshow in this thread -

Look into Kambi ya Tembo or Ndarakwai Ranch. There's also West Kilimanjaro camp operated by Kirurumu.
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Old May 25th, 2006, 10:56 PM
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countingdown - another detour to your question - and clarification to my last note.

Galiano - you may want to consider Sinya for a Masai experience as well. That may be the Kambi Ya Tembo spot.
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Old May 26th, 2006, 02:42 AM
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Not sure of your experience or what it was exactly that gave you "the willies". Culture shock? Being pestered by hawkers? You should tell us what happened... imaginations are running wild here.

Personally, I didn't feel uncomfortable at all - but of course we din't go the same village. My wife and I thought it was a lot of fun and we enjoyed talking to the people and doing some shopping. It was very interesting. We certainly didn't take it to be a wholly authentic experience but it was equally not all a tourist attraction. Some of the people we saw/met really did live there. I can understand that some people might feel a quickening of the pulse when they realise that this is the case and that these people might not be employees in costumes who are going to change back into jeans, get on the bus and go home to the condo at the end of the day.
A couple who came after us seemed to feel even worse than you did and were quite rude until they eventually ran away - again I am not sure if it was because they didn't want to be forced to buy something at spear point or were just suffering a bit of culture shock - possibly because the Hatari Theme Park suddenly got real?
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Old May 26th, 2006, 04:20 AM
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Our experience with Maasai was during 2002 visit with stop between Crater and Serengeti. Our group of 6 was only one there. Don't recall much pressure to purchase items. While several of the group circled the inside fence (used to keep the cattled penned for the nite)I walked around and took pictures. All were very polite. I appreciated conversation with one of the older men. At that point we were outside the village having just visited the school hut where the youngsters were singing their lessons. He and I spoke of land development and I felt a common bond as to love for the land and how it needed to be respected. One could not help but notice the difference in standard of living between what we have and what we were seeing, no electricity, no running water, no sanitary facilities and a youngster maybe 5 or 6 sitting on a cow hide laid on the earth while making jewelry. At one time I thought "well these people are bused in to perform and show what life was like at some earlier time" and then the reality hit that they live here right now. And, then seeing villages in the distance as well as remains of those abandoned (during road trips and even small craft flights)the later was reinforced. we did appreciate the opportunity to leave a monetary donation in the box in the school room. Another experience came to mind. One member of our group having lost her purse on the international flight was limited to purchases with her travelers checks. She told the head person (chief or his son) she had only travelers checks and he indicated he could take such. I wondered about the inconvenience of such as he was several hours from the nearest bank or exchange. In my conversation with him I wanted to know about the cattle. I was interested in the breed or strain but didn't phrase my question right. I asked what kind of cattle they had. He said, "cows and bulls". Enough said. We noted a lack of boys and then realized they were out watching the cattle grazing elsewhere. The wife and daughter entered one hut and came away in awe at the small space for inside living and few possessions. Our experience was humbling overall.
rsnyder is offline  
Old May 26th, 2006, 05:27 AM
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Thanks everyone, love reading the responses. The village we visited was on our way from the Crater to the Serengeti, apparently a village visited often by tourists. There were only 7 of us to visit at this particular time. Immediatiely upon stepping out of our vehicles the Maasai began dancing, chanting, singing, it was wonderful. They are a stunning group of people, the colors are so beautiful. Once the dance was finished the women surrounded the women in our group and pulled us into the village. Each of us was then claimed by one of them and their necklace was placed around our necks. We held hands, at this point I remember reaching for the hand of a younger girl (perhaps 16-18), she hesitated for a moment and then got a big grin on her face and reached for my hand. When you hear about Africa being a place for life changing experiences, this was a particularly strong one for me. We then danced with the women, I apparently was not doing it correctly and they were having a bit of fun with me. I couldn't understand their words, but I knew my inability to make the necklace dance properly was providing them with much humor. We were then led inside a hut and it was at this point I began to wonder, is this real, or just a prop for us? I desperately wanted this to be authentic, yet remember feeling disbelief at what I was seeing. It was after leaving the hut and feeling incredibly humbled that they began with the hard sell. They women once again surrounded me, wanting to touch, hold hands, look into my eyes, and ultimately get me to purchase their goods. I made a few purchases and then suddenly had a strong need to escape the confinement. I left the interior of the village and we were then led to the school. Immediately I felt this to be a "mock school" where children were placed to put on a good show for the tourists. Others in our group did not have this feeling and felt the school to be exactly as presented.
Once back in our vehicle our guide asked us what we thought, I remember grappling for some words to describe it but all I could say at the time was I felt it to be a bit overwhelming, still several months down the road I have a hard time absorbing the experience. Africa offered something new and amazing each and every day, yet the visit to the village was perhaps the most impressive for me. I began this post to see what other impressions, reactions those of you that have made visits experienced.
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Old May 26th, 2006, 06:02 AM
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Here’s my take for what it’s worth:
We got off the beaten path and had some excellent experiences with the Maisai, Dotogas and Hadzabes. Some of this was prearranged and some not. My trip report goes into a bit of detail on this, if you care to pursue further.

All our experiences were wonderful – fun and very enlightening. We definitively saw a difference between those close to the roads trying to squeak a living from selling jewelry and those living out in the bush herding or hunting for sustenance. Kinda like the difference between city and country folk. Like us, is so many ways but so much better. Their lives were very full and they really do seem to watch over each other. Elders are revered and have a high place in society. Those who were expecting us appeared to deck out a little extra with amazing jewelry – just like us when expecting visitors.

The street vendors were a little more decked out and some even had on cutoffs etc. but you still had to feel that these guys were the real thing – they do live in bomas and migrate, after all.

Even the prearranged Maisai guys who danced for us at Kikoti seemed like the real thing. These guys worked for Kikoti and wore civilian clothes by day. Somehow, I think because they seemed to be having so much fun and seemed so proud to show us a part of their heritage, that it didn’t seem so canned. I actually, to my amazement, really liked it – these guys had their groove on. I expected it to be like one of those canned dance events that you’d see in the islands. Not the case. Now those poor people at the Sopa who had to sing Sopa songs – that was truly pathetic – they definitely didn’t have their sole into it – it was rather painful to watch.

Upon visiting those in the villages or in the bush, most of these people would stop what they were doing to speak to us and share lots of laughter and stories if they sensed that you were interested. The funny (interesting) thing was that so many jokes and silliness seemed to put us on the same plane.

My DH and I are kinda demonstrative and found these folks to love touching – we really enjoyed this. The woman and some men loved touching my hair – it’s long and curly with lots of blond. They thought it was so soft. I gave the Dotogas a clipping.

Although no one expected or asked for anything, we discretely left donations. This held true even for the Hadzabes who we hunted with all day. It was so cool after the successful hunt to shoot the breeze with these guys and have some laughs. We did find the bush women to be much more reserved than the men and the women living closer to the traveled areas. They always seemed to enjoy watching from a bit of a distance when we played or showed attention to their children. These kids are too sweet for words. If we gave these women some space, they would eventually come over and stand close or chat. They always seemed interested in our attire - kinda universal - even though most woman including myself hate to admit it, we do check each other out.

The lovely Tanzanians do seem to want to preserve the tribal people’s way of life and seem to be fairly successful doing this but I do fear that eventually civilization (which is quite uncivilized) will creep in. So if you’re lucky enough to spend anytime at all with these amazing people, do so.

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Old May 26th, 2006, 06:32 AM
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Sorry to be a party-spoiler

Have u stepped on cow-dung ? No???
This was no real, authentic Maasai village !!!

this village on the road from Ngorongoro has no cow dung, no cows...
A Maasai with no cows can b called Maasai ?? ( The whole culture, ideals status 7 some concepts are based on cows )
Did u notice the houses (huts) which r supposed to be covered with a mixture of cow dung & mud r hardly covered? (in Maasai society part of your status is the amount of cow-dung smeared on your house)

& on the way from Ngorongoro to Arusha u can see Maasai villages with cone shaped roofs - this is Bantu architecture.
I have nothing against cultural mixing (on the contrary, it is interesting to observe these dynamics) but just be aware that the Maasai in this land-strip r losing their traditions

still it is an experience
but try, next time to allocate time to a more eye-to-eye visit somewhere off road

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Old May 26th, 2006, 06:33 AM
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P.S. we didn't stop at either of the 2 perm. Maisai encampments on the way from Ngo - Ser. Our guide did tell us that we didn't want to go there. He found a smaller off road newly set up camp for us to buy goodies - he seemed to feel that it was a bit more authentic and less costly - he always did our bartering for us.
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Old May 26th, 2006, 08:56 AM
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Sounds like everyone's experiences are different, as are mine:
DH and I did a nature walk while staying at Ngorongoro Serena. Our guide told us we might be allowed to visit the nearby Maasai as we walked. An elder met us so that we would be permitted to walk on their lands.

Our walk took us toward their houses and then our guide and the elder chatted and we were permitted to walk to one of the homes. As we walked, one of the older boys caught up to us and said (in English) that he had been at school (that was the extent of his English, though). Other children followed as well, one of whom was carrying a newborn goat.

we came to the house and saw the corral for the livestock and all the houses and buildings covered in dung and mud. Two women were sitting outside the house grinding snuff for the men. The children sat on the ground near them. After another hushed conversation with the elder, we were permitted to enter the house. It was dark and tiny. We started to ask one of the women about it but the elder came in and took charge of talking about the house.

We were permitted to sit on the bed (the hard cattle hide) and the women squatted on the floor. There was nothing for sale and no performances, just an opportunity to view how these people live (how weird would it be if a Maasai came up to your house and asked to look around??! but they allowed us to do just that). So we felt it was appropriate to offer a tip, although none was asked for. Our guide handed it to the women (it was their husband's house, not the elder's) but they immediately handed the bill to the elder.

It was a different experience from the singing/dancing I saw at Kikoti and Serena "performance nights." I think all were very worthwhile but most enjoyed interacting with the people in their everyday home--esp. the children who LOVED to pose for photos and then have me show them on the digital camera (wish I had brought a polaroid so I could have shared the cute pics with the subjects).
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Old May 26th, 2006, 09:19 AM
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We did something very similar to what you did with the Maisai. We drove from Kikoti thru the private reserve and then hiked to a few nomad temp. camps further away(dung and all - not much though due to these being temp. accomodations).

Some of these people had actual come from as far as Kili. due to the drought. This was done all while schlepping their few belongings and herding their cattle - amazing.

The cows as you can imagine, were in pretty bad shape by this time. Despite the exhaustion and thirst, these people allowed us to check out their bomas and took the time out to converse with us.

Apparently, we were told, that despite the fact that they could sell their cattle for a huge sum, they would still rather keep the status of being cattle owners. All facinating stuff.

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Old May 26th, 2006, 10:17 AM
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My family and I stopped ina Masai village in Amboseli.

It was very interesting to learn of their culture and meet them. To be honest, I didn't feel very 'humbled' by the experience. They had definitely learn about Western consumerism and marketing. At the end of the tour, they took us to their market, which was people sitting in a huge circle with their beads, etc. laid out on a rug in front of them.

To be honest we didn't want anything, but our guide said just point out anything that interests you, we will put them together, then go to the village circle and negoatiate. We pointed to 2 or 3 beads. We were thinking we would be generous and offfer like $10 - $15.

They wanted more than $100 and were insulted at our offer and refused to negotiate anymore. So we walked out. Nevertheless, I am glad for the experience.

I saw the Masai village between Serengeti and Crater. My guide, who was very pro-Tanzania and anti-everything else , said that the villages in Tanzania were real Masai villages while the ones in Kenya were setups for tourists.'

For those who care and have the bandwidth, my visit to Amboseli and the Masai Village is in the second 1/2 of the Amboseli video on

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Old May 26th, 2006, 10:50 AM
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Welcome back countingdown and the whenever the trip report gets done, it will also be fun to read.

What a nice request for other Masai experiences. It lets me relive my time with the Masai.

In 2000, I was at Mara River Camp in the Masai Mara and my guide asked me if I'd like to do a Masai manyatta visit. Since I had visited several previously, I asked offhand, "Does anyone ever stay overnight?" The response was, "So you would like to stay overnight. It will be arranged."

Before I knew it, I was spending the night with the chief's first wife and their daughters. I visited the village in the afternoon and walked around the surrounding area with the 17 and 18 year old son and daughter of the chief. Their fluency in English made for a delightful exchange as we meandered through cattle, sheep, goats, and pet dogs.

The children sang songs and danced at the direction of the 3-year old daughter of the chief. She was quite the little task master.

Then it was time to eat. I had brought my own cheese sandwich, made at the camp. They some blood/milk mixture and ugali. When the chief saw my meager dinner he insisted on slaughtering a goat. I had to insist more vehemently that I was too full to even eat my sandwich (untrue, I was very hungry) so no goat meat would be needed.

I did not eat any food there, but did try some snuff.

The evening was spent visiting with the neighbors of the village in the hut of the chief's wife. Without their knowledge of English, this would not have been so comfortable and enjoyable. I did learn to count to 10 in Masai to the delight of the children and some other basic words.

They had some interesting questions. "How many cows do you own?" I had to answer none, but could boast of my residence in Wisconsin, the Dairy State. "Do you have lightning where you live?" "Who is your husband sleeping with while you are here?"

That night they offered to have the 3 or the 18 year old daughter sleep in my "alcove" of the hut with me in case I was scared. I declined and had a very peaceful sleep with one of those read Masai blankets for a cover.

In another part of the hut (this was a large hut with several sections) the women were taking turns holding a several day old baby girl. For the first month the baby never sleeps alone. I got to take my turn holding her and it was quite an honor.

With the brigade of women holding the baby and several other women and children sleeping in the hut, there was a bit of commotion during the night, but we slept from about 8:00 pm to 6:30 am so there was plenty of time for shut eye.

When nature called, we stepped out of the hut near the perimeter of the boma.

The next morning my guide came to fetch me and I had breakfast at camp. Then we returned to the village and crammed as many of the young people into vehicle as possible. They each requested to wear an article of mine--an extra jacket, a spare pair of binocs, a hat. We all went on the morning game drive. Lions were in abundance and we saw several. Most of they young people had not seen lions from this perspective and were very interested.

That was supposed to be me one time sleepover with the Masai. But when they found out I was leaving that night, they insisted that I had to spend my last night in Africa in the manyatta. So I did. And I even went back the next year and stayed for a couple of days again. That time all the cattle stayed in the boma at night so it was an even more lively experience.

What struck me most was that it was more like spending time with friends of friends than a big adventure. After the first time, I helped with dishes and chores, like any houseguest.

(I also paid them double the rate of a village visit for my stays, except for when they asked me back as a guest. I bought some of their crafts.)

One humorous exchange--When I first arrived at the manyatta, I presented the chief's son with a small gift of dried cranberries. He responded politely, "That is nice, but we eat meat and blood. Did you bring any meat or blood." Of course the answer was no.

But the next year when I returned, I was prepared. I came bearing packages of beef jerky. The son immediately remarked, "So you remembered my request from last time."

Sorry so long, I got carried away...back to the Masai manyatta!
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Old May 26th, 2006, 11:51 AM
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Oh Lynn,
That sounds like such a wonderful experience for you. I'll bet it's something you'll remember fondly forever. It sounds like you just fit right in with them, that says alot about you - your a great woman.
It's amazing how these people whom we must be so strange to, can be so gracious and hospitable.
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Old May 26th, 2006, 11:56 AM
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Lynn, great story!
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Old May 26th, 2006, 02:23 PM
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Lynn, what a wonderful experience, I will only have time for a stop in visit but I would have really enjoyed staying with the Maasai!

Does anyone have a recommended donation amount for a “visit” at a Maasai settlement if they are not going to purchase anything?

Thanks, Den
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Old May 26th, 2006, 07:30 PM
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Thanks all for the nice comments. Den, some villages actually have an admission so you don't need to make a donation. Or you could donate money for the school or any medical facility.

Otherwise, you could just buy something and leave it at the camp for decoration. There are usually very small items like bracelets that do not take up room that you could bring back as a gift for someone or give to any elementary teacher or school back home for educational purposes.

Enjoy your Maasai visit and the rest of your trip.
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Old May 26th, 2006, 07:41 PM
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That is a great story. I have not been able to overcome my feelings about female genital mutilation to be willing to do what you did. I hope that this comment does not come out wrong--I just know myself and I would have seen that baby girl in a way that was too painful.
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Old May 26th, 2006, 07:43 PM
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Good question Denb,
Most of the places we visited weren't selling anything, so we asked our guide what he thought would help and he usually said 10. - 15. so we'd leave 15. for a short stay and 30. for longer. We paid the Dotagas who made us bracelets while we watched from melting down brass locks the same even though they wanted to give us these as gifts. We gave the cash to our guide who then passed the $ to the elder.

We did the same as Lynn at the places that were selling goodies - a token purchase.
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