View all 13 photos

Maasai

Maasai
When the Maasai migrated from the Sudan in the 15th century, they attacked the tribes they met along the way and raided cattle. By the end of their journey, they had taken over almost all of the land in the Rift Valley. To be a Maasai is to be born into one of the last great warrior cultures. 
“Lions can run faster than us, but we can run farther”
The Maasai’s entire way of life has historically depended on their cattle, following patterns of rainfall over vast land in search of food and water. Nowadays, it is common to see young Maasai men and women in cities selling not just goats and cows, but also beads, mobile phones, charcoal, grain.
Kenya + TanzaniaGo to journey ›
Artprint available

- Jimmy Nelson

Serengeti, Tanzania

November 2010

To be a Maasai is to be born into one of the world’s last great warrior
cultures. From boyhood to adulthood, young Maasai begin to learn
the responsibilities of being a man and a warrior. The role of a
warrior is to protect the livestock from human and animal
predators and to provide security to their families. Through
rituals and ceremonies, including circumcision, Maasai boys are
guided and mentored by their fathers and other elders on how to
become a warrior. Even when small, Maasai youngsters must learn
all of the cultural practices, customary laws and responsibilities
he’ll require when he is an elder. 
Kenya + TanzaniaGo to journey ›

Maasai kraals

November 2010

The Maasai live in kraals (boma). Their huts are loosely constructed
and semipermanent. They are made of mud, sticks, grass and cow
dung. Skins and hides are used as bedding. The fence around the
kraal is made of acacia thorns, which prevent lions from attacking
the cattle. Men are responsible for fencing off the boma, while
women construct the huts, supply water, collect firewood, milk
cattle and cook.
Kenya + TanzaniaGo to journey ›
Artprint available

- Jimmy Nelson

Tarangire, Rift Escarpment

November 2010

The Maasai are monotheistic. Their god, Ngai, is the creator of everything.
In the beginning, Ngai was one with the sky and the earth, and owned all
the cattle that lived on it. However, one day the earth and sky separated,
and Ngai was no longer earthbound. To prevent his cattle from dying,
he sent the herds to the Maasai, who he instructed to look after his cattle.
There are two main manifestations of Ngai: the good and benevolent black
spirit and the vengeful red spirit.

Kenya + TanzaniaGo to journey ›
Artprint available

- Jimmy Nelson

Maasai

November 2010

Both warriors and boys herd the livestock. Elders direct and
advise on day-to-day activities. Every morning before the
cattle leave to graze, the elder who is the head of the boma
announces the schedule that everyone must follow.
Kenya + TanzaniaGo to journey ›

Maasai girl

November 2010

Ear piercing and the stretching of earlobes are also part of Maasai beauty,
and both men and women wear metal hoops on their stretched earlobes.
Women shave their heads and remove two middle teeth on the lower jaw
(for oral delivery of traditional medicine).
Kenya + TanzaniaGo to journey ›

Tarangire

November 2010

The Maasai’s nomadic way of life follows patterns of rainfall over vast land
in search of food and water for their large herds of cattle. The Maasai tribe
measures wealth by the number of cattle and children a person has.
Men can have as many wives as they can afford and support. Each wife is
responsible for building her own home for herself and her children.
A hierarchy exists among the wives, with the first wife holding the most
value and power.



Kenya + TanzaniaGo to journey ›
Artprint available

- Jimmy Nelson

Maasai

November 2010

All of the Maasai’s needs for food are met by their cattle.
They eat the meat, drink the milk and on occasion,
drink the blood. Bulls, oxen and lambs are slaughtered
for meat on special occasions and for ceremonies.
The Maasai’s entire way of life has historically
depended on their cattle, although more recently,
with their cattle dwindling, the Maasai have grown
dependent on food such as sorghum, rice, potatoes
and cabbage (known to the Maasai as goat leaves).

Kenya + TanzaniaGo to journey ›
Artprint available

- Jimmy Nelson

Manyara Village, Rift Escarpment

November 2010

Though they traditionally dressed in animal skins, typical Maasai dress in
the modern era is a red length of cloth (shukka) wrapped around the body,
as well as a great deal of beaded jewellery worn on the neck and arms.
These are worn by both men and women and may vary in colour
depending on the occasion. 



Kenya + TanzaniaGo to journey ›

Emorata

November 2010

At the age of 14, girls are initiated into adulthood via an official
circumcision ceremony known as Emorata. Presently, the female
circumcision ritual is outlawed and its use is diminishing within
the Maasai’s culture. When girls come of age, their parents ‘book’
a warrior from a respectable clan as an appropriate husband for
their daughter.
Kenya + TanzaniaGo to journey ›

Maasai woman

November 2010

An elaborate ceremony (Eunoto)
is usually performed to mark the graduation from boy to warrior.
Becoming a warrior means a young man can settle down and start
a family, acquire cattle and later become a responsible elder.

Kenya + TanzaniaGo to journey ›
Artprint available

- Jimmy Nelson

Ngorongoro, Serengeti

November 2010

At the turn of the 19th century, tragedy struck the Maasai tribe. Rinderpest
and other diseases killed large numbers of their animals, followed by a
severe drought that lasted years. Over half of the Maasai and their cattle
perished during this period. Soon after, more than two-thirds of the Maasai
territory was requisitioned to create both ranches for settlers and Kenya
and Tanzania’s wildlife reserves and national parks.

Kenya + TanzaniaGo to journey ›

Maasai

November 2010

Ear piercing and the stretching of earlobes are also part of Maasai beauty,
and both men and women wear metal hoops on their stretched earlobes.
Women shave their heads and remove two middle teeth on the lower jaw
(for oral delivery of traditional medicine).

Kenya + TanzaniaGo to journey ›
Artprint available

- Jimmy Nelson

Saitoti, Maasai boy

November 2010

The Maasai are famous for their jumping dance (Adumu),
performed by the men of the village, who leap into the air
to show their strength and stamina as tribal warriors.
Each young man will jump as high as he can while
the others stand in a circle and sing.