Meet the Maasai

Learn about one of the oldest and culturally rich communities in the world.

The Maasai (2021) by Vibhor YadavProject FUEL

The Maasai are known to be one of the oldest and culturally rich communities. They are a Nilotic ethnic group, predominantly settled in Kenya and northern Tanzania.

Anyorr (2021) by Vibhor YadavProject FUEL

The name Maasai means ‘people who speak Maa’, which is their native language.

Engai, God of Maasai (2020) by Advithi EmmiProject FUEL

Traditionally the community is monotheist, worshipping Engai, a god that is said to be neither male nor female. The Maasai believed that Engai is the creator of everything.

According to the legends, the tribe believed that Engai resided in and was one with the sky and owned all the cattle as well. But one day, the earth and the sky separated, and so Engai was no longer among the people. 

The cattle though needed grass from the earth to sustain themselves. It is then that Engai sent the cattle down to earth to the Maasai through the roots of the sacred fig tree and told them to look after the cattle. The Maasai have since then taken care of the cattle for Engai.

Status Symbol (2021) by Vibhor YadavProject FUEL

Cattle is a very integral part of the community's lifestyle and tradition. For the Maasai, cattle is seen as a form of wealth. The cattle herd size indicates the status in the community. They are a highly valued source of pride and a symbol of wealth.

Morans singing (2021) by Vibhor YadavProject FUEL

The Maasai are a traditionally patriarchal society. Maasai men are born and raised to be Morans (warriors) to protect the cattle herd and community. They are largely in control of consultations, decision-making, and conflict resolution, among different age groups and clans. 

Household duties (2021) by Vibhor YadavProject FUEL

Women take care of their children and look after the home. Their responsibility includes taking care of household chores, like fetching water and firewood, milking the cattle, and cooking for the family. Women are also the ones who construct the houses.

Symbol of Bravery (2021) by Vibhor YadavProject FUEL

The Morans or warriors are one of the most important stages in Maasai society. Young boys from the ages of 12-15 are circumcised and initiated into the warrior stage.

Moran Throwing a spear (2021) by Vibhor YadavProject FUEL

The youth engage themselves in hunting to prove that they are strong, dependable and confident in protecting the Maasai land. 

Cattle and the Moran (2021) by Vibhor YadavProject FUEL

They are also sent out to take care of calves and lambs to learn skills like control while herding the cattle in the right direction, sensing the needs of animals, building their stamina and strength by walking long distances, all of which is a required skill set as a Moran.

Anna's wedding (2021) by Vibhor YadavProject FUEL

An important element of Maasai culture is beaded jewellery. The art of making jewellery is passed on from mothers to their daughters.

Ceremonial clothing of Maasai (2021) by Vibhor YadavProject FUEL

Jewellery is used as an everyday adornment to represent wealth, beauty, strength, marital status, social status, and other important cultural elements. They are also presented at ceremonies, at rites of passage, and to visitors as a sign of gratitude and respect.

Father: once a Moran (2021) by Vibhor YadavProject FUEL

Another component of Maasai identity is the Shuka. It’s a rectangular cotton fabric that is wrapped around the body, over the shoulders. It is worn by both men and women.

Changing times (2021) by Vibhor YadavProject FUEL

Over time, the Maasai society has seen a lot of changes with the increasing influence of modern technology, Government interventions and interactions with members of different communities.

Educating others (2021) by Vibhor YadavProject FUEL

An important intervention has been education. Many young members of society are now opting for higher education. Their biggest motivation is the help their family and village by providing resources that are lacking, like water, health or opening up schools.

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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