THE LAND THAT DEFINES ANCIENT CULTURE and the pride of place of wildlife neighborhoods. The land of extended savannahs and dotted acacia trees standing proudly in their wide skirted thorns for goats and camels to feed on. The land of ant hills and elephant grass standing as tall as an adult man. This is the land of the Maa speaking people whose beauty of physic and soul rhymes with the spirit of the nomadism and love of animals to a perfect bred. The land of the Maasai tells of seasons by the plenty or scarcity in regard to the greenery of the land shown by the smooth well fed herds or the opposite when the land turns golden brown before dust blows into the eyes of the shepherds and his flock pushing them further into the vast wildernesses where beasts of the savannah too lay in wait for a lame beast to secure a meal.
The true test of the Maasai herder is never during the rainy season but during drought when the entire plains succumb to bareness and he has to navigate into distance places in search of water and pasture. That such undertaking is difficult is not an exaggeration, for the Maasai land is truly extensive sometimes beyond national borders. The remarkable fetes are found in the relationship between the herd, herders and wild life especially the carnivorous type like the lion, cheetahs and Leopards on one hand, and scavengers like hyenas and jackals on the other.
That most of the Kenyan National parks boarder Maasai land where wild life is protected by law and which could easily become a clash of interest over grazing space for herders and their herds vis a vis the wild game; both the carnivorous and herbivores demands a delicate balance in the coexistence. This is where the Maasai becomes a champion of care, concern and super skilled nomad who closely lives with the danger of wild life, and comes out unscathed while leaving the wild life unaffected.
Welcome to a Moran. This is a young Maasai young man who has proved his manhood by braving the circumcision rite of passage to be called a man. Before, the laws of the land outlawed the practice, the Moran’s ultimate test was to single handedly kill a lion, skin it, and bring the trophy head and hide to the village. That is now a crime punishable by imprisonment. But the Moran remains that man who is unafraid of the wild animal whichever it is. Armed with his trade mark spear, a Simi (a sheathed knife) held firmly on his left hip by a leather belt, and a rungu (a short stick with a rounded head) no man or animal would survive an attack of such a Moran. And the wildlife, whether around the great Amboseli, the famous Maasai Mara or on the sprawling Laikipia planes knows this. Only a foolish man would confront such a Moran and most likely live to regret if they survive.
It is worth noting that the Maasai are peaceful people and unless there is a threat to their animals, basically they mind their own business. In the expanse of the savannah terrain, it’s not unusual to sport a Man clad in a colored Shuka standing on one leg while the other is pushed up to rest on his knee as he leans on his spear while thousands of cattle graze lazily all around him with the sweet rhythm of clanging bells on the lead animal contributing to the music of the wild. Usually, such a man would pick a raised ground like an anthill or a small hill as an observation point. This kind of observatory vantage point is something the Maasai shares with the wild cats, especially the lions.
So how does a Moran survive in the wild while ensuring his herd is safe from wild animal’s attacks?
Strange as it sounds, the Maasai blend in not only with his stock but with every other animal in his immediate world. One bond shared and which levels the ground for wild living is the shared water points. When seasonal rivers dry up, animals gravitate towards pools in the deep savannahs where mornings and evenings, and midafternoons, animals in their variety congregate to drink and some like the elephant, to bathe. Here, too, you will find the Maasai and his herd drinking from the same muddy pool and like the elephant, taking a bath. A very delicate balance of respect exists between the two worlds of men and the wild. But each smells like the next from living in the comfort or discomfort of their own sweat and scent which sets one apart while remaining as part of the whole.
The other thing that brings healthy respect between the hunters of the Savannah is feeding habits. None of them cooks their meals. The Maasai herder draws his nourishment from his cows by way of raw milk and blood from the bulls making that his staple diet. He also sleeps between his animals ensuring they all smell the same. That the lion and the other big cats too draw their nourishment from eating their flesh kills, bonds the two even as each keeps to its side. This coexistence is much more than a seasonal happenstance for it’s a tradition that has been in practice for as long as the wild life has existed and as long as the Maasai has kept cattle and goats. The wild animals are therefore very aware of the Maasai and his domesticated animals as part of the existence which is shared throughout from the memories of both sides.
It is only in excessive severe cases of drought when old male lions may prey on a Maasai’s herd out of desperation. In so doing, the animal knows its stalking death and usually, that’s exactly what it gets. Such cases are few and far apart.
While agricultural practices are creeping slowly into the Maasai culture of wide range grazing and decimating the experience of cattle herding into faraway places during drought, still, this culture is ongoing in pockets in all the territories of the Maasai people.
A safari into any of the Maasai lands can testify to the truth of champion men and champion wildlife coexisting together. Long live this spirit.