By Rosina Weiskopf, 19-time traveler and 2-time Vacation Ambassador from San Mateo, CA
It was a great experience to witness the magnificent wildlife in Africa on our Kenya and Tanzania trip in June of 2018. But I was also fascinated by discovering some of the nomadic Bushmen, and was eager to learn more about the Maasai people.
I had promised my 18-year-old granddaughter Isabelle she could travel with me to any trip she chose before she entered college. Now, she had just been accepted at U.C. Berkeley and wanted to experience a safari because she is a big animal lover. She also has a curious mind to discover other cultures.
Unexpectedly she got a big surprise coming as we were about to enter the Maasai village of Azdabi in Kenya. The custom is that a group of travelers visits a Maasai village to learn about their culture. They demonstrate how they tend their livestock, make their natural medicine, and create their ceremonial dress; show us their homes; and perform dances and songs. Really just mingling with the villagers is a great experience and only possible because we are a small group size, but we got a pleasant surprise this time.
While we were on the way to the Maasai village, our guide was lecturing about the Maasai people. We learned from Jabir, our guide, among other things that the word “Maasai” is a name of Hebrew origin, and it means “God’s work.” They used to have their own gods, but now most of them are Christians and a small minority is Muslim. They live in small villages throughout the region and within the game reserves. The children attend school in these villages. Women carry their babies on their back. Men tend to the community livestock. The cows play an important role and they consider them almost sacred.
Some men drink cow blood mixed with milk. All the villagers carry on cultural traditions in their colorful attire. We were full of expectation and could hardly wait to meet and mingle with the Maasai people. With a big grin on his face Jabir announced, “I have a surprise for you today and am sure you will be very pleased.”
He was right. It was a big surprise when our group of ten women, all senior citizens except my 18-year-old granddaughter Isabelle, entered the Maasai village of Azdabi. We were approached by Chief Matapatchi offering Isabelle to play a role as a bride in a traditional Maasai wedding for our group. At first Isabelle hesitated, but after Chief Matapatchi explained the procedure of the role, she enthusiastically accepted the offer and our group was very pleased.
Now Chief Matapatchi introduced Isabelle to the groom Leshoto, a tall handsome Maasai man with long braided hair wearing traditional red clothes which is called a “shuka.” Maasai wear red because it symbolizes their culture and they believe that it scares the lions away. Now, women from the village dressed in colorful clothes decorated with beautiful beads started to dress Isabelle in traditional bridal clothes for the wedding. As the dressing was completed, Isabelle looked like a beautiful, happy Maasai bride.
The couple accompanied by a best man had to wait outside the village until Chief Matapatchi, who performed the ceremony of the wedding, invited them into the village through a gate of thorn bushes. As the couple walked through the gate, a big group of women from the village, dressed up in beautiful clothes for the occasion, welcomed the couple by singing and dancing. Then the chief started the ceremony in Swahili with a long litany of promises for the couple while the group of women answered every promise with a loud “Amen.”
One of our guides had the role of an interpreter. An important part of the ceremony was when the chief congratulated the couple by offering the bride a form of a big wooden polished penis, which represents fertility. Then the chief gently pushed the wooden penis into the back of the bride’s collar sticking partly out. With a big smile, he congratulated the couple and wished that they will multiply as much as they can. Of course, there was a big roaring laughter from the crowd, bride, and groom.
Now, the women from the village invited the bride to join them in celebrating the occasion by dancing and singing with them. It was a beautiful picture to see Isabelle blend in well with the Maasai women. The men followed by performing a traditional Maasai dance called “Adumu,” which consists of jumping as high as they could. The groom had to prove himself as a worthy warrior and husband by participating in the jumping competition, and he performed well. Of course, all the cameras and videos were in high gear to cover this unique, unforgettable moment of a Maasai wedding. We were all astounded how well Isabelle played the role as a bride. She looked so beautiful and happy in the magnificent, colorful bridal clothes. Everybody in our group enjoyed this unique experience to the fullest.
Now, the chief led the bride and groom to a herd of cows where the bride chose five cows for the dowry. Then the chief showed the bride her new home, which is called a boma hut. It is made of dried clay with a thatched roof and has no windows. The bride had to put the last touch on the new home by putting dried cow-dung with her bare hand outside the side wall of the hut for good luck. I was surprised when some women in our group enthusiastically joined Isabelle in putting the dried cow-dung on the wall of the hut and didn’t mind to get dirty hands.
The event ended when the women from the village showed our group a beautiful array of handmade jewelry and artifacts spread out on the ground for sale on colorful blankets. The Maasai women tried to explain patiently to our group how they make all these beautiful artifacts, mainly with beads. There were so many beautiful things to choose from, and our group was happy to fill our shopping urge.
We visited the Amboseli Primary School where the children performed songs and were eager to share with us individually some accomplishments from their books. I noticed that some of the children were rather shy in their mannerisms, but very pleasant. Then we were invited to take turns to serve a younger group of children lunch from a huge bowl of soup mixture. This was a satisfying job and ended the day well.
The visit to A Day in the Life of a Maasai village was a big surprise and a most wonderful experience. I felt very comfortable mingling the Maasai people, and find them very hospitable and charming. This event was unforgettable and cemented in my mind forever. Thanks to O.A.T.
Experience A Day in the Life of a Maasai village and perhaps even witness a wedding ceremony like this one during our New! Kenya & Tanzania Safari: Masai Mara to the Serengeti adventure.