The Maasai people are a semi-nomadic ethnic group that live in game reserves and national parks, and are generally spread out to occupy the African Great Lakes. This encompasses northern Tanzania, southern Kenya, and parts of Uganda, Burundi and Rwanda.
Before the arrival of British explorers, the Maasai could easily move between the plains of the Serengeti, Masai Mara, and the western expanse of Lake Victoria. However since the colonial era, the Maasai are fragmented and restricted to living in certain areas, constricted by borders that they did not set themselves.
There are many Maasai tribes, each varying slightly in custom and clothing, but each marked by their ability to speak the Maa tongue and a pastoralist lifestyle. Another distinct characteristic of a Maasai tribe is that the warriors are fearsome, courageous, disciplined, and are respected by many who have come to get to know them.
A rough journey from boyhood to manhood
Male tribe members are born and raised with varying expectations and responsibilities based on their age group. One of their early milestones on their way to manhood is a public circumcision. This is one of the first displays of bravery and nonchalance in the face of pain. Flinching or showing fear could quickly ruin their reputation. In their own reasoning — How can they face off with lions if they can’t even take on a knife to a skin?
However, a warrior status is not given simply by circumcision. Traditionally, the men had to prove their worth that they can kill a conscious and aware male lion on their own with a selection of traditional weapons. In the past, indeed the cost of a warrior status is a lion’s life, and the cost of a lion’s survival is the Maasai man’s failure.
How the Maasai redefined bravery and skill in the modern world
The Maasai had long persisted in living the traditional way. They refused the convenience of modern life for a godly Maasai idealism. Living off their cattle and sheep, not killing any game except when one’s life or the livestock are threatened, and refusing to receive education were once a sign of admiration.
However, an increasing number of Maasai families decided to give up their semi-nomadic life on their own accord in order to pursue a stable life, as semi-nomadic life became increasingly difficult due to diseases, frequent droughts, and a rising stigma against killing lions.
For the new generation of Maasai men, a warrior status is now given to the protector of lions, in the great service to the natural world as they begin to recognize just how fragile nature is becoming as humanity moves forward.
In their own reasoning — Who is braver? Someone who kills lions, or someone who protects them from their predators?