The Traditions of the Maasai

An exhibit actualizing the traditions of the Maasai community in Arusha, Tanzania, on a canvas.

Members of the Family (2021) by Vibhor YadavProject FUEL

The Maasai are one of the oldest communities in the world. A formerly nomadic society, they are now a pastoral community residing in parts of Tanzania and Kenya.

Gratitude (2021) by Vibhor YadavProject FUEL

The community is culturally rich and proud carriers of the traditions that have been passed down from generation to generation. During a research study, we spoke to many community members and documented their traditions.

Gestures and the Canvas (2021) by Vibhor YadavProject FUEL

These traditions were conceptualised in artworks by India-based artist Advithi Emmi and hand painted on canvas that were gifted back to the community.

Here are some of the canvases inspired by Maasai traditions.

Hide and Seek (2021) by Advithi EmmiProject FUEL

1. Hide and Seek

Maasai children at a young age generally don’t have any social obligations. Young boys sometimes help their mothers in taking care of sheep and goats, while girls are absorbed into household chores.

Educating children (2021) by Vibhor YadavProject FUEL

However, in their free time, the children will be seen running around and amusing themselves while playing games.

Hide and Seek (2021) by Advithi EmmiProject FUEL

One such game is Aulengisidori (Hide and Seek in Maa language). Inspired by their playfulness, we drew the children on this canvas playing their favourite game.

Moran's Torso (2021) by Advithi EmmiProject FUEL

2. Old and New Religion

Traditionally, the Maasai society is monotheistic and believed in one God, whom they call En’gai. Eng’ai is neither male nor female but seems to have several different aspects. The Maasai believe Eng'ai is the creator of everything.

However, over the last few decades, many Maasai families have adopted Christianity as their religion. They believe that both the Maasai tradition and Christianity teach them to live in love, harmony and in respect for each other.

An old proverb (2021) by Advithi EmmiProject FUEL

3. The ringing bells

This canvas was inspired by a proverb that goes- “The bell rings to tell the cow she can continue to eat but there is no bell to tell you when to stop.” 

Elderly Watch (2021) by Vibhor YadavProject FUEL

The proverb, shared by Lobodlo, could come to mean that there is no external reminder or stop signal for us to know when to end certain actions, and we must rely on self-discipline and control to regulate our behavior.

Rubber Footwear (2021) by Advithi EmmiProject FUEL

4. Tyres You Can Wear

This artwork depicts a form of footwear that is a popular choice amongst Morans (Maasai warriors), for its as it is durability. Made out of tyres, this footwear is comfortable and suitable for a Moran's lifestyle.

Zebidayo (2021) by Siddharth GovindanProject FUEL

Zebidayo is a young man who makes footwear out of rubber tyres and sells them in Nanja market in Arusha, Tanzania. He shared that this footwear not only helps in recycling old tyres but is also sustainable and can last up to 5 years.

Rubber Footwear (2021) by Advithi EmmiProject FUEL

This footwear is now a popular choice amongst not only the Maasai but also many tourists. To make them more attractive, many people now add beadwork to their footwear.

Blessings (2021) by Advithi EmmiProject FUEL

5. Blessings

Traditionally, in Maasai culture, to spit on a person (usually their head or hands) or a thing was to bless them or express reverence. Newborns were spat on constantly, elders spat into the hands of juniors to bless them and ritual participants often spat a mixture of milk and water on whoever was being honoured, or blessed.

Blessing the children (2021) by Vibhor YadavProject FUEL

Now, with the change of time, the elders bless the younger Maasai by patting them on their heads. The young also approach the elders in reverence, seeking their blessings.

Taking the bull by horns (2021) by Advithi EmmiProject FUEL

6. Proving their Strength

The Morans are warriors in a Maasai society. From a very young age, they are trained to become warriors by taking on responsibilities.

Kakachi sitting (2021) by Vibhor YadavProject FUEL

In an interview, Kakachi Ole Chakai, a former Moran, shared how he trains his sons to become Moran through various activities like catching an untied cow in a fenced boma, lifting a cow by its horns and going very long distances to drop a cattle and bring another one back.

Taking the bull by horns (2021) by Advithi EmmiProject FUEL

This, according to Kakachi, shows a sign of maturity.

Credits: Story

Project FUEL would like to thank the Maasai community in the Losimingori village of Arusha, Tanzania for opening their hearts and home to this research. 

This exhibit is part of the Wise Wall Project, an initiative of Project FUEL, to document, design, and strengthen the wisdom of rural communities and marginalized villages using art and community outreach programs. In the third edition of this project, we collaborated with the Maasai, in Arusha, Tanzania, to build an on-ground community centre for the people and bring an exclusive insight into the life, lifestyle, and learnings of this inspiring community.

Photography: Vibhor Yadav, Siddharth Govindan
Wall Murals: Poornima Sukumar
Canvas Art: Advithi Emmi
Cultural Consultant and Translators: Kaay Ndoika Lengima, Elisha Olchakai Kirumui and Lemali Ndoika
Research, Interviews and Curation: Project FUEL
Project Partners: Vijana Inspiring Foundation, Vikram Solar Ltd., Lions Club of Dar es Salaam and Arusha, Google Arts & Culture

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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