Maasai Mara is a large national game reserve in Narok Kenya, bordering Tanzania. It is named in honor of the Maasai people, the ancestral inhabitants of the area, who migrated from the Nile Basin. The reserve “Mara” means “spotted” in the local Maasai language originating from the spotted bushes and trees of the area. The Mara has a rich history and culture of coexistence with the land and its animals.
Maasai Mara is one of the most famous and important wildlife conservation and wilderness areas in Africa, world-renowned for its exceptional populations of lion, African leopard, cheetah and the African bush elephant. The legendary wildebeest migration is also one of the world’s most amazing wildlife encounters. The reserve is particularly famous for its highest concentration of lions and more than 500 species of birds, from kori bustards to ostriches. Mara national reserve covers 1,510 square kilometers that run to the Northernmost section of the Mara-Serengeti ecosystem that covers 30,000 square kilometers.
The Maasai Mara is also one of the most famous safari destinations for tourists with both nature and wildlife attractions. This includes the hot air balloon safari, game drives, walking safaris and bird watching. The Maasai culture is one of the few remaining untapped cultures on the planet. The Maasai tribe is one of the native tribes found in Kenya. The community members (I don’t like the term “locals” although it is used a lot) live along the Great Rift Valley which has a semi-desert climate. They practice a nomad lifestyle where they depend on livestock for livelihood with little agriculture. The Maasai tribe is among the few tribes that have managed to conserve their traditions and cultures amidst modernization of the continent. They encourage and live by coexistence with each other, tourism, wildlife, cattle and the government.
The history of the Mara can be traced back to the East African ancestors of the Maasai, which had adopted pastoralism. Pastoralism can be described as a form of domestication, where animals such as cattle are released into the outdoors for grazing. The Maasai and wildlife have always been very interdependent. In times of severe drought, people turn to wildlife as a food source. Maasai’s success in conserving their environment without threatening the existence of the region’s wildlife can be attributed to pastoralism itself. Cattle was and continues to be central to life in the Mara, and their need for grazing land led them to cooperation and conflict with neighboring groups such as the Kamba and the Kikuyu communities. Many Maasai people continue to rely on herding cattle and goats for a living, and in the rural areas rely on food produced by cattle, especially milk, which is part of a popular cornmeal ugali. Their wealth is also measured by the number of cattle they own, however they normally do not eat meat. Since the Mara has been the site of pastoralism for a thousand years, most of their vegetation now only thrives from human interference. A current issue facing the Mara has been the increasing coming of tourists, a development which interferes with animal migration.
It is clear that the wildlife are as much a part of the environment as the people. The current system of tourism and development in the Mara endangers both the wildlife and the Maasai. Organizations such as the Mara Guide Association (MGA) have been dedicated to monitoring, protecting and taking care of these animals. Although conservationists have become increasingly aware of these issues, understanding the present needs of the Maasai and their neighbors at the local level and implementing a new park development strategy is crucial to save Maasailand from extinction.
Kenya is one of the most visited countries in Africa because of the beautiful game drives of the Masai Mara. Located in East Africa, the beautiful country Kenya has its capital in Nairobi and its official languages as English and Swahili Language in Kenya . Kenya is neighbored by South Sudan to the northwest, Ethiopia to the north, Somalia to the east, Uganda to the west, and Tanzania to the south. The Kenyan flag has a meaning behind its colors: black represents the people of Kenya, red represents the bloodshed during their independence fight, and green represents the landscape and natural wealth. Kenya gained independence from Britain on December 12, 1963, marking only 57 years of independence.
In the Southwest of Kenya and north Tanzania lies the extraordinary Masai land; this land is known as the Masai Mara Reserve. The Masai migrated to northern Africa a thousand years ago. The Masai are known to be the one old tribe in Africa. The Mara attracts many tourists worldwide, which may mislead one into thinking that the Masai economy is a prosperous one; instead, it is a corrupt one. The Masai people are known as warriors and hunters, dressing in traditional clothing, and performing their jumping dance. Masai knows the most important quality is the community in which nobody is left behind. The Masai tribe is seen as the lower caste of the Kenya tribe. Masai face many difficulties as a tribe and are exploited by the tourism industry and the Kenyan government. According to Prof. Meitamei Ole Dapash, Director MERC, on the proposed Maasai Mara Management Plan, The tourism industry has controlled them by making the Masai dance to the tourists and entertaining them for less than a dollar a day. Currently, the Masai tribe is fighting to protect their land and create jobs. The Masai can lose the majority of their land through development and fighting among clans. The Masai people still have withholding the community's pride with them, and most do not have an interest in Western society.
The fight among the clans is something the Masai never escape since their independence. In 1963 Kenya was free, but that didn't make every tribe in the nation accessible. The Kikuyu tribe is seen as the lowest in Kenya because of Jomo Kenyatta. The Kikuyus have been forcing the Maasai people out of their homes and businesses. This trauma has left the rest of the Kenyan population beyond repair because of what was set by Kenyatta. Today there is a problem between the Kikuyus and the Maasai due to their beliefs. According to Masai, Kikuyus and Somali Culture "I asked one of the old men what was the matter. He answered quickly, in a low voice: 'Masai na kudja'-- the Maasai are coming". The Kikuyu welcome the Masai to their ngomas (big dances), but things quickly turn violent. After the violence, the Kikuyu cast a spell on their women to protect them from falling in love with the Masai. Thus they discourage inter-marrying." The belief has been passed from generation to generation to the point where clans are still fighting.
Today, Masai are still facing healthcare, education, and a loss of land from development, which will lead to the destruction of their culture. According to Prof. Meitamei Ole Dapash, Director MERC, on the proposed Maasai Mara Management Plan, The Maasai’s goal is to create self-government in which the Masai will be able to fight in court, protect their land, and build a better future for the next generation; most importantly, maintain their land, identity, and tradition.
My name is Miles Miller and my Maasai name is Ole Rakwa. I have been managing the development of the Maasai Automotive Education Centre for the past year and am back in Maasailand with my team for the next two months to work on the first stages of implementation and research for MAEC. It’s good to be back!