Why I Did Not Like My Visit to Masai Village in Kenya
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Visiting Masai Village was an optional activity on our Masai Mara safari tour. For those who are not familiar with the Masai, it is a nomadic tribe dwelling in both Tanzania and Kenya. They are well-known for their proximity to nearby game reserves, distinctive culture, unique customs and dress, and traditional way of life.
I met several Masai during my visit to Masai Mara, and their culture always interested me. I wanted to get to know more about it, so I decided to pay a visit there. However, my decision did not lead to a good experience.
If you plan to visit Masai Village, please read on for my experience and why I did not like my visit.
Getting to the village
To get there, we walked from our Lenchada safari camp with the guide, the son of the village chief, for ten minutes.
The road to the village was unpaved the entire way. We stopped a few times to learn about the plantations and trees that Masai use for treating mosquito bites and other diseases. We also met a few Masai on the way and greeted each other.
Before we entered the village, we were asked for $10 USD for tips at the end of the tour if we liked our visit. They also encouraged us to take pictures, videos, and to ask questions.
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We stopped outside the village fence for a short stint to receive a welcome from the Masai people. The welcoming group was made of eight people performing their traditional jump dance. It required a leader singing the melody or a line while the others responded by singing in unison. Then the jumping began. The one who jumped the highest would pay the least dowry (meaning cows) when married, and vice versa.
The singing is part of the Eunoto, a graduation ceremony of Masai Warriors, which involves 10 days of singing and other rituals.
After the welcome singing and dance, we entered the village and were taken to one of the houses.
Their houses appear in rectangular and circular huts. The frames are made of timber pikes fixed in the ground. Then, the pole is interlaced with the combination of clay, wattle and daubs, water, and even human urine to make the house. Part of the roof was built by cow dung, which made it waterproof.
In Masai, it is the women’s duty to construct the house. The process lasts for a few months and the house is temporary, which means that a house, on average, lasts nine years. Afterward, they have to dismantle and reconstruct their homes.
Inside the house
The house was narrow, elaborate, and dark. There were no windows. There was a fire pit in the kitchen that was used for cooking and providing light. I was invited to sit on a stone bench in the kitchen where we talked about the culture and the tradition of the tribes.
The bedroom was in a separate quarter a few feet away from where I sat, and I could not imagine how several people could live and sleep in such cramped space.
The culture and social structure
The Masai people have a very strict social hierarchy and gender role. The women are responsible for cooking and selling hand-made crafts at the nearby market. The men are all dressed in red sarongs wearing beats and jewelry. Their main job is to hunt.
Moreover, Masai men are circumcised at the age of 14. Then they spend three or four years outside the village killing lions by using sticks and spears before returning home. Killing a lion is a test a Masai warrior has to pass. It is illegal but they take the chance whenever they can.
The Masai still implement arranged marriages to prevent inbreeding, and people there get betrothed when they were teens.
In the village, people still live a traditional lifestyle that dates back to ancient times. There is almost no electricity or running water. Two sources of lighting are fire pits and solar power generated from a small light bulb the same size as a flash flight. We also learned that every day they have to fetch water three times, and the water source is three kilometers away.
The Masai is a nomadic tribe, so the village that I visited is possibly new or will be gone in a few years. There are also programs offering tourists to stay in a Masai village for a few days to experience what it is like to live with them.
We were also informed that tourists have boosted the local economy. Because of the booming of tourism, two schools were built to educate children.
It was an informative visit and I thought they were relaxed and friendly, but things went downhill afterward.
Money and souvenirs
I was not informed that there was a ‘requirement’ of a souvenir purchase at the end. So when the Masai showed me the necklace made of lion bones and put iron bracelets on my hand, I was taken aback. It was highly-priced, as one bracelet cost KES$3000 (equivalent of USD $30). I told them that I did not need them and asked him to take the bracelets off my wrists.
I redirected the conversation by asking to visit the school. They did not respond and one of the tribe members talking me back by saying that I am a tourist, and I just come and take pictures, not contributing anything to the community. This was really not what I expected. The other people in our group already purchased some souvenirs so it made me look like a bad person here.
When we walked outside, each of us handed over KES $1000 for tips like an automatic process. Looking back, it was so wrong.
My thoughts, comments, and advice
I thought I was having a great experience there until they started selling me souvenirs. I was shocked by the rudeness of the Masai when I refused to buy. I also feel that a $10 tip for an hour’s visit was too much, provided that I pay $10 back in Canada and the USA for a day tour. This is Kenya and most households earn an income of less than KES 55,000 (USD 550) per month.
They may think that most of us come from developed countries in Europe and North America, and we have lots of money so we should share with them. I was saddened that this traditional village saw us as tourists visiting there just to take photos and entertain. Perhaps they really need money to survive, but I did not like the way they talked to me and treated me.
I also want to advise others who plan on visiting Kenya and Masai village that we should not hand over cash like this. Surely, how much you plan to pay them is your decision, but if we continue handing over $10 or $20 dollars and euros every time, they will develop expectations, which will do both parties more harm than good. Most visitors are hard-working people back in our own countries; saving months for a trip to Kenya. So please value your money and make them aware that we are not wealthy and gullible tourists having lots of cash to squander.
If you plan on visiting this village, please ask questions to your safari guides on how much you should pay for the souvenirs, and what to expect. They should make this information transparent. Unfortunately, our guide did not inform us much, so I suspect that he also collaborates with the Masai to earn a commission.
Have you visited Masai Village in Kenya before? Share your experience below.
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