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The Maasai People

The Maasai are a semi-nomadic people who live in southern Kenya and northern Tanzania along the Great Rift Valley, having migrated south in the 15th century.  To much of the Western world, the Maasai are characterized by their dedication to age-old customs -in recent years the Kenyan and Tanzanian governments have instituted programs to encourage the Maasai to abandon their traditional lifestyle, with little success.  Many Maasai tribes welcome visits to their village to experience their unique and cherished culture.

The Maasai society is comprised of sixteen sections (known in Maasai as Iloshon): Ildamat, Ilpurko, Ilkeekonyokie, Iloitai, Ilkaputiei, Ilkankere, Isiria, Ilmoitanik, Iloodokilani, Iloitokitoki, Ilarusa, Ilmatatapato, Ilwuasinkishu, Kore, Parakuyu, and Ilkisonko, also known as Isikirari (Tanzania's Maasai). 

Historically, the Maasai stood against slavery and lived alongside most wild animals with an aversion to eating game and birds - consequently, Maasai land now has East Africa's finest game areas.

As a largely patriarchal society, women marry young while men spend their youth training as warriors.  Women are responsible for making the houses as well as supplying water, collecting firewood, milking cattle and cooking for the family. Warriors are in charge of security while boys are responsible for herding livestock. The elders are directors and advisors for day-to-day activities. Every morning before livestock leave to graze, an elder sits on his chair and announces the schedule for everyone to follow.

Traditional Maasai lifestyle centers around cattle, their primary source of food and income.  A Maasai prayer, "Meishoo iyiook enkai inkishu o-nkera" translates to "May God give us cattle and children." A man's wealth is measured in both.  

The Maasai economy is increasingly dependent on the market economy. Livestock products are sold to other groups in Kenya for the purchase of beads, clothing and grains. Cows and goats are also sold for uniform and school fees for children. It is now common to see young Maasai men and women in major towns and cities of Kenya selling, not just goats and cows, but also beads, cell phones, charcoal, and grain among other items.

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