The Masai and their Future When it comes to tribal East Africa, the people that come to mind are the Masai, although they only comprise less than 5% of the population in Kenya and Tanzania. Undeniably, this is because of their rich culture, their vibrant artistic traditions and their striking body decorations, to name just a few. Most importantly, the Masai are known for still adhering to a very traditional lifestyle and maintaining their ethnic identity, despite the encroaching progress that is taking place in East Africa. When African nations achieved independence in the 1950s onwards, respective governments wanted to and tried to abolish tribal distinctions and blend all tribes into one united people. While this sort of unity may exist in some countries, the Masai have very much kept their tribal pride, customs and separateness. In the past years, the governments of Kenya and Tanzania have decided to work with the Masai rather than oppose their will to maintain their lifestyle. As they work with them, they are also working against them at the same time. These governments are encouraging tourism in this region and measures to educate the Masai concerning their environment and surroundings are still in place. For the hundreds of years that the Masai have shared the East African Savannah with great herds of animals, they have learned not to harm these animals. When any kinds of wild animal, especially the lions, attack their cattle, they will undoubtedly harm that animal.
In the recent years, the governments have imposed and continue to impose a number of changes which are greatly affecting the traditional lifestyle of the Masai people. This is a serious concern to the Masai people because this East African region has been their home for hundreds of years now; the Masai are the Nilotic people who immigrated to East Africa from Sudan 1000 years ago. As known, at the core of Masai culture and traditional lifestyle is the need for land to graze their cattle, which are very central to their lives. Because Masai traditions scorn agriculture and land ownership, this tribe has been and continues to suffer greatly from land shortage and limitations. From as early as the colonial era, their land has been diminishing as a result of government impositions. During the colonial days in Kenya, a great deal of Masai land was taken for European colonization through different kinds of treaties. Over the years, vast areas of land that make up their traditional homeland are being developed for wildlife reserves or for housing and agriculture to accommodate growing populations. The area in northern Tanzania, known as Serengeti, has been part of the Masai land since the Masai came to this region; it has been converted to a National Park and this is putting a strain on the Masai tradition. As expected all these changes on Masai territory have put much of the remaining traditional grazing lands of the Masai off limits. They have less land to graze their cattle and this becomes challenging as it affects their lifestyle. In fact, the issue of land shortage continues to affect their cultural habits. One main consequence of this land shortage is that many Masai ceremonial traditions can no longer be fulfilled. One perfect example is the ceremony where a man becomes a moran (warrior). This involves a group of young males, aged 14, going out and building a small livestock camp after their circumcision ceremony and living there for a number of years. This is somewhat problematic as a result of an increasing amount of land becoming unavailable.
This invasion of their traditional homeland is a pressing issue to the Masai. Because this act deprives them the resources necessary to the nomadic pattern of their lives, the question that needs to be asked is how much longer can their way of life survive? In this day and age where adaptation is the main price of survival, what will happen to this rich tribe if it does not adapt to what is going on in East Africa. If they do not change their lifestyle, how much longer will the Masai tribe survive? What will happen to the Masai people as they continue to lose their traditional homeland?