According to their oral history, the Maasai tribe originated in the lower Nile Valley, just north of Lake Turkana in north-west Kenya. They began migrating south in the 15th century and settled in the Great Rift Valley of East Africa and parts of the neighboring savannas.
Traditionally, the Maasai were nomadic herders, relying mainly on cattle, goats, and sheep. The Maasai practiced transhumance, moving their homes and livestock to different grazing grounds depending on the seasons. Their mud houses, called Manyattas, were abandoned and rebuilt in the new location.
During the European colonial period in Africa, the Maasai lands were divided between British Kenya and German Tanganyika (now part of Tanzania). This division had a significant impact on their traditional way of life, as colonial powers restricted their movements and access to grazing lands. Cattle were and are particularly significant to the Maasai, serving as a measure of wealth and social status. To this day, status is often measured by the number of cattle a family owns.
In recent years, the Maasai have faced increased challenges in land encroachment, loss of grazing lands due to agriculture and wildlife conservation efforts, and socio-economic changes. Mara Napa works hard to address these issues and preserve the unique cultural heritage of the Maasai people.
The Maasai are known for their distinctive and colorful attire, including the plaid shuka that men wear as a cape for warmth. This tartan plaid has its roots in the trade relationships between the Maasai people and European settlers and traders during the 19th century. The tartan check or plaid became popular among the Maasai, and today, it is still an essential part of their cultural identity and dress. In Maasai culture, colors hold specific meanings and symbolism. Red, for example, is the most important color and represents bravery, strength, and unity. In addition, since the Maasai lived as nomadic herders, the bright colors made it easier for them to identify each other from a distance, especially in the vast savannahs.
Prior to the arrival of colonial settlers in the 16th century, Maasai clothing was made from animal hides. Women wore leather skirts and elaborate beaded jewelry. Beadwork held significant cultural and social importance among the Maasai people, representing age, social status, and other aspects of their identity. Both men and women wore intricate adornments, including necklaces, bracelets, and earrings. Beaded jewelry remains an important part of Maasai daily life, and especially for ceremonies such as age set graduations and weddings.
It is interesting to note that even today, most Maasai women still wear elaborate beaded jewelry and colorful Maasai clothing. Children and men can be seen in villages wearing American or European clothing, but the women, by-and-large, dress in traditional Maasai attire.