It was about 10 years ago when I’ve heard about the Maasai Tribe for the first time, through Corinne Hofmann’s “White Maasai” controversial best seller. Back then I had no idea that years will pass, and I will have the chance to visit a Maasai tribe and learn about the Maasai culture in Tanzania.
Visiting the Maasai of Tanzania can be a wonderful experience if you know what to expect. Of course, the tribes that open their village doors to tourists won’t be 100% authentic, but that doesn’t mean that you won’t learn anything or that you can’t have a proper cultural experience.
Where to Find Maasai Villages in Tanzania
Most of the Maasai villages in Tanzania are in the North of the country, near the main game parks such as Tarangire, Serengeti and Ngorongoro. Usually tourists are visiting Maasai villages as part of safaris, which I would not recommend, these are the ones that get most of the bad reviews. Being on the touristic path, some of the Maasai villages have become too much money orientated and will try to rip visitors off. My experience of visiting a remote village somewhere in the endless plain of Kilimanjaro was probably as authentic as it gets.
Who Are the Maasai?
The Maasai is a semi-nomadic tribe living in the South of Kenya and the North of Tanzania. There are over 1 million Maasai living a simple life, concentrated on taking care of their cattle. In order for a Maasai to be wealthy, he needs to have both plenty of children and plenty of cattle.
Maasai Tribe Facts:
- The tribe is very proud of their Maasai culture, holding on to their traditional values and customs despite being influenced by the western civilization and modern way of life. Even if they are working in towns and have received an education, the Maasai are still respecting their traditions and are still wearing their traditional clothes.
- The Maasai are traditionally polygynous, which means that men will have several wives. The chief of the village told me that his father had 108 children.
- The Maasai speak their own tribe’s language, Maa, but can also communicate easily in Swahili – the national language of Tanzania. Most of them speak fluent English as well.
- The cattle are very important for the Maasai and they take pride in herding their cows. A big heard of cows is seen the same way as we would look at a fancy expensive car.
- They sometimes hunt lions. In the past, a Maasai who killed a lion by himself was considered a great courageous and fearless warrior. However, these days, with the decline of the lion population, the Maasai are only hunting lions when they kill their livestock. Even then, the Government encourages them to seek compensation rather than kill the lion, which many do.
- The traditional Maasai diet consists of raw meat, raw milk and cattle blood.
Booking a Maasai Village Tour from Moshi
Pretty much every tourist agency in Moshi will sell tours to the Maasai villages nearby. I didn’t book in advance so after I arrived in Moshi, I went around town to shop for a tour. As I had two days to explore the area, I ended up booking a set of activities together with a private driver from Matata Tours, after I negotiated for a fair price. My day trips were great, but I can’t fully recommend this agency because it does seem to have quite a few bad reviews for the hikes they organise on Kilimanjaro.
If you don’t want to go tour shopping in Moshi, you can always take a look online on what’s available on Viator.
What a Maasai Tribe Visit in Tanzania is Really Like
Slim, my driver, came to pick me up from my hostel, We Travel Hostel, at 9AM. He brought with him Edward, a Maasai guide who was from the village we were going to visit that morning.
Before leaving from Moshi they asked me if I wanted to buy some candy for the children in the village. I said sure, so we stopped at the nearest supermarket and I bought a big bag of hard candies to take with us.
We drove for the next hour or so, to a remote village somewhere in the direction of Kilimanjaro Airport. The village has no proper road of access, just a dusty path which seems to lead to nowhere. A kilometre or two before the village, where an old railway crosses the plain, the path collapsed underneath it, during the last heavy rains. It was quite a challenge to cross it by car.
We arrived in the village and, by the time we parked, the men came to greet us.
“What’s your name?”, a tall young man, no more than 16 years old, asked me.
“Joanna”, I replied.
“Oh, me too!”, he said, with a large smile on his face.
Now it is very possible that he understood my name wrong, or that his name was quite similar, maybe Johan. He took the lead and confidently showed me everything around the village, for the next couples of hours or so. In the lines below, I’ll call him Johan.
Firstly though, I shared the candies among the small children. They formed a small queue in a front of me and politely took one candy, before letting the next child in line come to front. I can’t even describe the feelings I had seeing how happy they were receiving and eating the banal fruity candy.
Johan took me to one of the small houses in the village, where one of the tribe’s women dressed me up with a traditional robe, beaded necklaces and earrings. I was now ready to join in the Maasai dance. I followed Johan to the circular fenced area on one side of the village, where all the village women gathered. The men of the tribe, led by the chief, followed shortly after, walking in the same rhythm. When they arrived in the circle they started to jump, whilst the women sang and cheered. At some point, they called me in to jump with them as well. Johan laughed hard at my inability to jump very high, especially wearing flip flops. A few jumps and I was already out of breath, especially that I was still in recovery after my lung infection just a couple of weeks back.
Next, I was shown how to make fire using just two sticks and a bit of hay. Of course, my attempts to roll fast the wooden thin stick in my hands were unsuccessful, so Edward the guide took over and started a fire in no time.
The living conditions in the village are very modest, with small circular houses built by women out of mud, cow dung, and wood poles. Inside there is usually a small kitchen and a living room, but no windows, which makes it very dark. Inside this 3×5 meters building, the Maasai family lives, cooks, eats, sleeps, socialises, stores food and even keeps small livestock.
As other tourists are re-calling visiting the local school located inside a tiny hut, I was actually told that the Maasai children in this village go to a proper school, in town. They are being helped and supported by different international organisations that are providing the children with access to free education. Edward explained to me how the children are actually shaping up the future of their village, through what they’ve learned in school. For example, one of the most important practices that this Maasai tribe has stopped doing because of getting access to education, is the female genital mutilation. The FGM is a practice that has been done for hundreds of years, which is not only cruel but also does irreversible damage to a girl’s mental health as well.
Because of the international support, not only boys, but girls too get to go to school and have access to education.
Before leaving the village, the women invited me to check out their crafts, mostly bracelets, necklaces and smaller wooden boxes for jewellery. I decided to buy a what I call “zebro-giraffe” necklace (because I can’t tell if it’s a zebra or a giraffe, but I like the design), which was priced at 10,000 Tanzanian shillings (approximately £3). I didn’t think it was necessary to negotiate on this low price. There was no pushing into buying at all, in fact, whilst I looked around, all the women left to search for shade under a tree.
Visiting a Maasai Village in Tanzania is for sure a touristic experience. However, my experience was positive, compared with what I’ve read online. Many people ask if visiting a Maasai village in Tanzania is a rip off. And the answer is a bit more complicated than a straightforward yes or no. Many people complain online that they have been ripped off by being lied that the children in the village are sick, that the school needs donations, or they have been asked to pay huge amounts on souvenirs such as bracelets and necklaces. Remember how much I paid for my necklace? In the touristy villages from Ngorongoro, visitors can be quoted around 75USD for the same thing! Many people left without a good hundred of dollars after visiting such a village. I would argue however that the experience you are going to get depends on where you go. The Maasai villages along the Ngorongoro-Serengeti road are very popular with safari goers who stop by at the end of their trip and this might weight in when it comes to greed and money-focused behaviour.
My experience was quite different. I did not pay to enter the village, I was not asked for donations and I was not forced into buying anything. The village I visited was quite remote, with no clear access road. My guide Edward was a Maasai from the village, but currently living in Moshi.
Was the experience of visiting a Maasai village worth it? Yes, very much to me. I have learned so much about the Maasai culture and their simple but proud lives.
As a fact, I still communicate from time to time with Edward, my Maasai guide, on WhatsApp. I would warmly recommend him, so, if you plan a trip to Tanzania, just drop me a line and I’ll send you his phone number. He is one of the genuine and kind people whom I’ve met in Tanzania, who didn’t try to trick me or ask for tips at the end of the tour. He even offered to drive me to the airport at 4:30AM after my driver bailed on me (something that seems to happen a lot in Tanzania!), but I ended up booking a taxi instead. If I will return to Tanzania, I would love to spend a few days in the village, to observe closely the daily routines of the Maasai tribe and learn more about their ways of life.
How about you? Have you ever been to Tanzania? Would you like to experience the Maasai culture? Would you go on a Maasai village tour? I am looking forward to read your opinions in the comments below.
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