Maasai Life: Then and Now

A glimpse into the changing lifestyle of the Maasai community of Arusha, Tanzania

Maasai Women Self Help Group (2021) by Vibhor YadavProject FUEL

The Maasai are one of the oldest communities in the world. They are known for their proud identity and long-preserved culture.

Long walks (2021) by Vibhor YadavProject FUEL

The community was previously nomadic, moving from one place to another in search of green pastures for their cattle. However, they are now a pastoralist society with settlements in primarily Tanzania and Kenya. 

Tech Savvy (2021) by Vibhor YadavProject FUEL

Over the past few decades, with the influence of technology, health interventions, and interactions with people from different cultures, a lot of changes have been adapted to the Maasai society. 

Changing times (2021) by Vibhor YadavProject FUEL

Here’s a look into what the Maasai life traditionally was and how has it changed overtime.

New age developments (2021) by Vibhor YadavProject FUEL

1. Education

Inside a classroom (2021) by Vibhor YadavProject FUEL

According to Joseph Shuaka Mollel, a 19-year-old Maasai youth, the Maasai society previously didn't see the advantage of formal education, “They believed that education has been brought by the Whites intentionally as a way of removing the Blacks.”

Education:Now (2021) by Vibhor YadavProject FUEL

But it changed in the 1980s when Eduard Moringe Sokoine, a Maasai man, was elected as the Prime Minister of Tanzania. This changed the perception of many community members. Over time, more Maasai children are now attending school.

Moran's Torso (2021) by Advithi EmmiProject FUEL

2. Religion

Religion (2021) by Vibhor YadavProject FUEL

The Maasai were earlier monotheists and worshipped Engai, a god that is said to be neither male nor female. The Maasai believed that Engai is the creator of everything. While there are still people who practice the old religion, many of the members now believe in Christianity.

Laiboni: The healer (2021) by Vibhor YadavProject FUEL

This has also led to the diminishing role of Laiboni, the spiritual leaders of Maasai society. They would earlier officiate ceremonies and sacrifices, heal people of both physical and/or mental or spiritual ailments, and advice to elders on the spiritual aspects of community.

Laying the stones (2021) by Vibhor YadavProject FUEL

However, most of the community members now regard Laiboni with a lens of fear and do not consult them in health or spiritual matters.

Anna's sister-in-law (2021) by Vibhor YadavProject FUEL

3. Marriage Practices and Belief

Botoro and Anna (2021) by Advithi EmmiProject FUEL

Traditionally, polygamy served the demands of a pastoralist life in the Maasai culture. Men married multiple wives in order to take care of a large number of cattle each house owned. With the change in time, social mindset, and economic growth, this practice is now receding. 

Jackson (2021) by Vibhor YadavProject FUEL

According to Jackson, 28-year-old Maasai man, people earlier believed that in order to live a good life, one needs to marry multiple wives, as it also leads to a better standing in society. But he doesn’t believe it to be true. “You don’t need multiple wives to live a good life.

Status Symbol (2021) by Vibhor YadavProject FUEL

The rapidly increasing water crisis has also led to a decrease in the economic status of the villagers, as many have lost cattle due to deforestation and drought.

Agnes (2021) by Ayushi JaiswalProject FUEL

Agnes, the first wife to a Maasai man, feels that traditions like polygamy should be stopped. She feels that with just one husband and wife, life would be much easier, and resources can be shared. With many wives, it becomes difficult.

Eva's Boma (2021) by Siddharth GovindanProject FUEL

4. Traditional Bomas to Tin Roofs

Architecture (2021) by Vibhor YadavProject FUEL

A traditional Maasai boma (home) is built using naturally available materials. The wood from nearby forests is used to create the structure of the boma. A mixture of cow dung and mud is used to plaster the home. Dry grass and cow dung are used on the roof. 

A Maasai woman near her dwelling (2020) by Windows to VernacularProject FUEL

The boma is constructed and maintained by the women. Increasing interactions with the people outside the Maasai land have resulted in the change and evolution of the traditional architectural design used by the Maasai.

New age Maasai dwellings (2020) by Windows to VernacularProject FUEL

Roofs are now constructed using timber and tin sheets. Kitchens, which were earlier part of the main boma, have moved out from within the house to an individual structure. Many Maasai are now also opting for a cemented house.

Maya's Shop (2021) by Siddharth GovindanProject FUEL

5. Modern Jobs

Dry and Parched land (2021) by Vibhor YadavProject FUEL

For many young Maasai, a good life is to be educated and have a source of income so that they can help their family and village. Many members of the community are facing issues like drought, lack of affordable and accessible healthcare or lower farm yield.

Elisha: Our translator (2021) by Vibhor YadavProject FUEL

This is leading to lesser economic growth for the people. As a result, the youth of the community aspire to have good jobs to ensure a stable income as well as help their community, like 20-year-old Neema, who wants to be a doctor so that she can help people in her society.

Joanne Peter (2021) by Vibhor YadavProject FUEL

Another such young woman is Joanne Peter, an aspiring nurse. Her dream in life is to buy a farm for her family so that they don’t have to depend on anyone to sustain themselves. She believes that it is important to learn and grow so that one doesn’t have to depend on anyone.

Keeping the Family together (2021) by Vibhor YadavProject FUEL

At present, the community beautifully transitions into the modern with respect to their old traditions. They respect the elders and celebrate togetherness. They drive motor vehicles and keep a balance of western changes and their ultimate roots.

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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