A witchcraft story ‘The person comes from Mbirikani. When he comes, he comes like a human being, but when he arrives to where the boma is, he changes into the shape of a hyena and he makes the sound of a hyena, like a person wanting to know where are the people. When the owner of the house ... comes after it, it runs very fast and miraculously hides itself. The person seeks and struggles, but does not find it and goes back to the house. Than the hyena comes out from the place [where] it hid and takes whatever it wants, whether a goat or a sheep, and carries it away…. The villagers try to look and find the [lost] animal, but they never find even the bones or the skin. So this is how they came to know that is was a human [taking the animal]. From all animals stolen by that hyena you never see bones or skin.
The person who changed into a hyena was known by the people. People told him that when he continues to do like this he will get cut by a panga. Now it has stopped, they don’t see a hyena any more since the person was identified. He was a Taita from Makwasini and I will tell you his name but you are not allowed to tell anyone…. Now he continues to live here and has stopped doing that. All this has happened one year ago and made the people suffer from the livestock that was stolen.’69
The Maasai generally claim not to hunt wild animals for food, as they are herders, and often pose it is taboo to eat meat from wild animals (interviews, see also Ndagala 1992: 41, Ole Sankan n.d.: 50). The only Maasai that eat wild animals would be the Dorobo, a Maa speaking hunter-gatherer group, that has become assimilated with the Maasai community (Kipury 1983: 1, Reid & Chapman 1997: 179) but whom are looked down upon because of their non-herding heritage (interviews, Galaty 1982: 8, Kipury 1985: 201, Ndagala 1992: 77).70 However, in confidential situations it becomes clear that almost every Maasai man knows the taste of wild meat. Most young men have hunted wild animals while herding, as a form of sport, to practice skills and test strength, to compete and prove who is brave and who is faint-hearted, but also to cook and eat the meat. It can be part of adventure or to provide food in-between meals at home, especially when herders stay in the bush for a long time. Wild animals are eaten to prevent sacrificing the wealth of the family, for its taste or simply when an exceptionally fat animal crosses ones path (interviews, see also Reid & Chapman 1997).
Buffalo and eland are the most common and undisputed sources of wild meat, as the Maasai consider them to resemble cows (interviews, see also Reid & Chapman 1997: 41, 43, 67-69, 80, 129-131, 134, 197-199, 224-227). The giraffe is however described to be the most tasty animal, according to my informants. Next in line come bushbuck, topi, gazelle and dikdik, and even hares are sometimes eaten, although they are despised (interviews, see also Reid & Chapman 1997: 81, 280). While out on the savannah herding, killing of animals by boys and young men, especially before circumcision is fairly common. According to one of my informants on this, young boys kill a wild animal nearly every day as a part of spending time, and indeed when he asks the first boy that comes past returning from herding, the boy says he has killed a bushbuck today. That some meat and animal materials are also still being sold was proven by the fact that some of my Maasai informants one day came over a poacher on the way between Talek and Aitong. Besides poisoned arrows the man was carrying giraffe bones, lion teeth and buffalo horns, as well as zebra meat for consumption.
Besides meat and the opportunity to practice valuable skills, wildlife provides more goods and services. To the Maasai the elephants are of importance because they fell trees. In the 1950s the elephants played a role in opening up the woodland of the Mara which led to the removal of the tsetse fly and made the land inhabitable for the Maasai and their livestock (Lamprey & Reid 2004: 1007). In contemporary day to day life the activities of elephants provide dead wood for the women to collect (picture 2.25) and cook on (see also Reid & Chapman 1997: 199). According to a mythological story the elephant once was referred to as the servant of the women as he was breaking and felling trees to make the collection of firewood easier. When one day the elephant heard the women complain that he was felling trees that were to big for them to split ‘he went to the bush and became not so friendly any more.’71
Another daily use of wild animals is the use of strips of wild animals' skin to tie the young calves while milking their mothers (picture 2.26). The wildebeest skin is traditionally used for this and is valued more highly than rope as it is more supple in use and softer around the calf’s neck.72 According to a villager from Oltorotwa the skin is usually collected from the carcass of an animal that has been killed by predators, as after the meat is finished the skin is sometimes left. The inside of the horn of a buffalo can be used as a plate when the bone is removed, but this was done more in the old days and mainly in the hills. The skin of the buffalo however was widely used to make shields (interviews, see also Reid & Chapman 1997: 43, 129-131, 227) and could also be used to fabricate sandals (Reid & Chapman 1997: 227-228). Ivory was only rarely used for decorations and as a means to trade (Ibid. 172, 179, Ole Kantai n.d.: xix).
Zebra are considered to be protecting the boma when they graze close to it, as the lions that come at night will eat the zebra and not the livestock, so this is why the zebra are not chased away when they eat the grass around the village (see also Reid & Chapman 1997: 222). On the savannah goats and gazelle and cows and wildebeest are often seen grazing together (pictures 2.27, 2.28), and the added numbers of wild animals are likely to diminish the chance for a hidden attack from predators. Moreover, when the elephants eat the trees close to the boma or the river, they keep away the lions and hyenas. The monkeys along the river also warn the people when predators approach.73
A Maasai boy traditionally kills a Colobus Monkey before he goes to kill a lion to show his strength and courage. The fur of the tale of the monkey can be made into an ornament, for instance a legpiece.74 The hunting of birds to use them as headdress ornaments is described in the literature as an important period in a boy’s life between circumcision and warriorhood (Ole Sankan n.d.: 27, Reid & Chapman 1997: 39-40, 106). Ostrich feathers are also valued ornaments (interviews, see also Ole Sankan n.d.: 39, Reid & Chapman 1997: 134, 179). Most well known however is the headdress of lion mane, of which some still circulate around in the Mara area. According to Simeren, when a group of warriors go on a lion hunt or Olamayio (Ole Sankan n.d.: 44)the one who is the first to spear the lion gets the mane, the one who is the second one gets the tale.75
The fat of the lion is said to help against many injuries (Reid & Chapman 1997: 99). According to my informants, if you drink one cup, the injury will not expand, and this is especially effective against internal injuries, for instance after a man is taken on the horns by one of his cattle. Lion fat is considered to be generally ‘good for the body and protects you from many things.’76 Animal products are more often used to cure or prevent diseases. Another example is the use of a brew containing soaked and filtered elephant dung mixed with milk to prevent babies from getting the measles. Although nowadays not all Maasai regard this as an effective way to immunize their children, even some young Maasai with good jobs in the tourism industry still give it to their babies.
To the Maasai, wild animals have widespread symbolic uses. Wildebeest for instance, are not only a source of illnesses, their products also play a large role in the battle against livestock diseases. To prevent the wildebeest from infecting the cows of the herd with malignant catarrh, pieces of the skin of baby wildebeest can be used. Maasai from the clan of magicians bring charms and hang strokes of the skin at the entrances of the boma, so that the cows entering through them are touched by the wildebeest's skin and will not become sick if they graze at an infected area. Eland skin, besides being used as rope, also blesses the cows in times of disease. The skin is tied around the neck of a black heifer or, if not available, any bull. According to Silvester Kipeen the cows of his family were protected in this way during the 1998 epidemic which affected the cow’s skins. The kudu is an important animal for ceremonies, as according to my informants the only instrument they use beside their voices is its long twisted horn, which is blown (see also Monbiot & Arbib 1994, and a picture in Ole Sankan n.d.: 30-31).
Wild animals also play an important role in the mythology and stories that are important for the Maasai, often explaining how the world has become as it is now. A good example is the story of the first circumcision of boys, which explains how the age-set structure which largely regulated society in the past, came about through the involvement of a leopard and a python that were send by God (Ole Sankan n.d.: 21-33). In a considerable amount of riddles, proverbs, figures of speech and less so in songs and poetry, wild animals also play a main role (see also Kipury 1983: 145, Ole Sankan n.d.: 85-89, 92, Reid & Chapman 1997: 135, 167, 227).
A Maasai riddle ‘Elang’ elang’u.
Olng’ojine liki nature ilkuoo.
What goes across here an there in a hectic manner?
A hyena (the limper) showing goats’ kids their mothers’ (Kipuri 1983: 145)
This is a Maasai riddle which plays on the meaning of hyena’s name: The one who limps. It refers to the hectic bustling around when the Maasai direct the young goats and sheep to the right udders in the bleating mass of smallstock that has come home from grazing in the evening.
Another important category of narratives, which are similar to the Taita, are those in which wild animals are the main actors, having the distinctive bodily features of an animal, but behaving like human beings. Many are humorous and light-hearted, often involving a trickster-aspect, but ‘beneath this humour are subtle commentaries on social activities’ (Kipury 1983: 21). The stories, riddles and proverbs are told to children, teaching them important lessons while entertaining them, but also used to ‘ridicule and scorn any unbecoming behaviour without having to point a finger at any individuals’ (Kipury 1983: 19), thus commenting on events within the community. An example of a story told to me several times, is the story of the lion and the ostrich, in which the lion tries to claim the children of the ostrich. With rhetoric and a cunning trick involving a termite mound the small mongoose defeats the powerful lion’s plans.
Very important in the Maasai social world are the division of the Maasai into clans. A clan is a group of people who have an assumed shared ancestor (Eriksen 2001: 104). Each person belongs to a clan, which is determined by descent, and people are not supposed to marry inside their own clan. Each of the clans is connected to a certain wild animal and certain personal qualities. There is the clan of the elephant (ilmoleleian). The people of this clan are considered to be the leaders of the Maasai and they are clever and good speakers. There is the clan of the rhino (ilaiser), which is split up into two different sections, the part which provides the best warriors (lemusere) and the section providing the herbalists and magicians (lekitui). Some families of this section provide charms to warriors, make rain, lead sacrifices and determine the location and dates for large ceremonies, while other families are known for their witchcraft. The clan of the hyena (iltarlosero) is considered to be very greedy, while the people from the clan of the buffalo are considered selfish and unpredictable.77
Perhaps most striking is that the complex interaction between Maasai and wildlife, which already begins when the Maasai are small children, does not end with death. Jonathan Kamanka Koshal, a young Maasai man working as a tourist guide, tells how the Maasai have only started burying their dead five to ten years ago. Traditionally the bodies of those who had died were put outside the boma (see also Reid & Chapman 1997: 104, 135, 192, 199). If they were eaten by the lions that meant the family was being blessed. If they were eaten by the hyenas that meant no blessing. Jonathan’s grandfather still does not want anything else than to be put outside the boma, somewhere in the shade after he dies. He says a crazy lion will come to eat him.
The new arrogance of animals
I hope to have unveiled and made understandable at least some of the ways in which Taita and Maasai life is intertwined with that of wild animals. As is the case with other local people in Africa, interaction does not only take place in the form of conflict, and wildlife as a local resource cannot be reduced to mere economics (Marks 2001: 128, 136). In the course of a lifetime, but even in the course of a day or a week, a Maasai or Taita has many different dealings and interactions with wild animals. They are a constant threat to resources, livelihoods and safety, and take lives of dear ones, but are also continuous providers of daily materials, medicine and protection. They are always present, not only in the landscape but also in ceremonies, stories and figures of speech. Being a considerable component of life from early childhood on, they sometimes even form ones destination after death. Perhaps the best illustration of how integrated wild animals are into daily life, is that people generally cannot imagine a life without them.78 When asking her whether wildlife and people could ever live peacefully together, Kaaka Maria Nguruna, a Maasai widow living on the edge of the Mara Reserve simply says: ‘They cannot be separated.'79
Even though the Taita and the Maasai are two very different tribes with contrasting cultures and ways of life, we can see many similarities in their dealings with wild animals. Both people fight a constant struggle trying to protect their livelihoods from the wildlife that they share their home areas with. When comparing the two it seems that the Maasai have been able to defend themselves against wildlife threats more vigorously and openly and that they manage to continue make use of wildlife in a larger variety of ways, especially regarding material products, even though direct consumption of bushmeat is probably more important to the Taita. Despite these (sometimes illegal) uses of wildlife, economically the animals largely are a burden to the people, competing with them for resources and compromising their land-use options and potentials. The use of wildlife in material and symbolic ways however helps to deal with this burden.
What is striking, is that the Taita as well as the Maasai report that staying with the animals has become increasingly difficult (see also Campbell et.al. 2003: 5, Njogu 2003: 191-202), while research shows that wildlife populations in Kenya have generally dropped with 50% over the last 25 years (Campbell et.al. 2003: 1, Norton-Griffiths 2000, 2003). The Mara area even lost 70% of its wildlife between 1976 and 1996 (Lamprey & Reid 2004: 1018, Reid et.al. 2003). How is it possible that local people often have the feeling that there are more animals and definitely more problems with animals now than several decades ago?
The increase in human wildlife conflict that also has been recorded by other researchers and the KWS (Campbell et.al. 2003, KWS 1994), is in the first place probably the result from the fact that the human population around Tsavo (Njogu 2003, Smith & Kasiki 2000: vi) and the Mara has grown considerably (Lamprey n.d., Reid et.al. 2003). The population of some animals causing problems such as the hyena (Campbell et.al 2003: 9) and elephant (Smith & Kasiki 2000: vi) in the areas have also grown locally. In addition, as a result of government policy – and this is true especially in Maasailand (Norton-Griffiths 2006 in press) – groupranches are becoming subdivided and more land is used for farming, which local people as well as researchers, the government, KWS and NGOs agree, is less compatible with wildlife (Campbell et.al. 2003: 11, Hoare & Du Toit 1999, KWS 1994, Lamprey n.d., Norton-Griffiths et.al. 2006 in press 10-12, Otuoma 2004: 1). Therefore, less space is left for animals and people to share, and in these places, human-wildlife conflict has become aggravated.
However, another explanation for this feeling, which is based on the interviews with informants of both communities, is a perceived difference in the attitude of wildlife towards them. Kurito Kereto, an old Maasai lady from Eluai voices the general feeling as follows: ‘Compared to the old days [the] animals have become very many now. They also were not aggressive a long time ago, but now they are.’80Local Taita as well as Maasai link the increased aggression of the wild animals to their protected status. Frederik Mwandigha, a 36 year old Taita explains: ‘When poaching and hunting was still allowed animals were afraid of human beings. Now not any more.’81 William Nkesese Ole Naurori, a Maasai subchief states that when poaching was prohibited ‘people became very shy and the animals multiplied.’82 Ntiwal Liaram, a circa 70 year old Maasai lady from Oltorotwa clarifies:
Now the animals are more aggressive than before as now they are being protected. Before if an elephant kills someone it is being killed. Now people are afraid to kill it. People used to form a group to go after it. The animals were fearsome [afraid]…. In the future animals will be [even] more protected and they will become very proud just moving around here [points to the area directly surrounding the compound]. People and livestock will not be comfortable.83 In the eyes of the locals, the conservation efforts have disturbed the hierarchy between animals and people. As a consequence the animals do not know their place any more. Local people felt that as a result of their protected status, they have become arrogant. This feeling is affirmed for these as well as other areas in research done by Otuoma (2004), Njogu (2003: 202), Smith & Kasiki (2000) and the KWS itself (1994).84
Dealing with Authority
'If an animal is injured, a chopper is sent. But if someone is trampled [by an elephant] the body is released and it is out of their [the government's] agenda.’
The Kenyan state
Kenya is an Eastern African country on the equator, largely dominated by the Great Rift Valley, a 5000 km long crack in the earth’s crust. The geological development of the Rift Valley brought Kenya deep lakes, huge volcanoes and relatively fertile highlands. Kenya's Gross National Income (GNI) was US$ 20 billion in 2006 (World Bank 2007b), GNI per capita being US$ 580, for a population of 35 million, growing with 2-3% per year (World Bank 2007b). Although agriculture is the mainstay of the economy, accounting for circa 25% of the GDP (important sectors being tea, coffee, sugar cane, maize and cut-flowers) (OECD 2007: 595),86 tourism is of definite significance as well, contributing 13.3% to the national economic growth and 12% to the GDP in 2006.87
Although Kenya is often regarded to be one of the more developed nations in Africa, there is no doubt it is a Third World country. According to the 2007/2008 human development index Kenya ranks 148th of 177 countries with data,88 and it is counted among the low income category of Sub-Saharan Africa.89 Life expectancy at birth is 49.6 years, which is two years less than the average life expectancy in Africa (OECD 2007: 604). The majority of the people lives on less than $2 a day (OECD 2007: 600).90 Every year millions of Kenyans go hungry. Over the period of 2002-2004 undernourishment was 39% in Kenya, almost twice as much as the average prevalence of undernourishment in Africa (OECD 2007: 604).
Though declining, 46.1% of the population still lives in absolute poverty, which means that they have 'levels of consumption that do not meet basic food and non-food needs'.91 19,1% of the population lives in severe poverty', implying that one in five Kenyans have consumption levels that would be inadequate to meet basic food needs alone, even if the individual were able to forego all non-food consumption'.92As in other Third World countries in Kenya, the division of wealth is highly uneven, with the richest 10% of the people consuming 33.9% of Kenya's wealth, while the poorest 10% only have access to 2.5% (OECD 2007: 600).
Facilities that would normally be supported or produced by the state, such as infrastructure, public transportation, electricity, access to clean water, employment opportunities, education, social security, health and legal facilities are poor or non-existent (Central Bureau of Statistics 2005, OECD 2007: 602-604, UNDP 2005). As most Third World countries, Kenya is considerably indebted. In 2005 the total debt of the country was over US$ 5 billion (OECD 2007: 596). To service and pay off this debt foreign exchange is very important. This foreign exchange is brought in by exports of agricultural products, and through aid – often in the form of new loans.
However, tourism has long been the country's most important earner of foreign exchange93 (Honey 1999: 18, Sinclair 1998: 22), and still is of high importance today, accounting for Ksh 65.4 billion (US$ 976 million) in 2007. The tourism sector is also a major source of government revenue through taxes, duties, licence fees and park entry fees. It promotes local and foreign investment and provides employment accounting for at least 400,000 jobs in the formal sector, and over 600,000 in the informal sector.94 There were 1.6 million international arrivals in 2006, and 2.3 million visitors to national parks and game reserves that year (Kenya National Bureau of Statistics 2007). The importance of the tourism industry, and the central role of wildlife in it, is illustrated by the fact Kenya has a Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife.
The history of wildlife protection in Kenya
The country of Kenya consists of 584.000 km², circa 8% of which has the status of protected area, including 27 national parks and 31 national reserves (KWS 1994: 1, Smith & Kasiki 2000: 5, Njogu 2003: 127-134). Many of these areas started off as game-reserves that were created under British colonial rule. During this time Kenya's wildlife became property of the crown, copying the practice of Europe at the time (Steinhart 2006). Land was expropriated from Africans to create preserves (Peterson 1994: 101), where African nature remained ‘untouched’. Only the occasional hunting party formed by rich white men was allowed to invade these natural areas normally separated from human beings (Steinhart 2006).
The national parks following the game reserves were crafted after the image of Yellowstone in the US in the 1870s, Tsavo being established as one of the first in Kenya in 1948. 'The Kenya National Parks Organization was charged with the protection and administration of the National Parks. This included developing them as tourist resorts for the benefit and enjoyment of the general public' (Otuoma 2004: 5). The Game Department was responsible for all wild animals outside the authority of the national parks. In 1976 the two government institutions merged to form the Wildlife Conservation and Management Department (WCMD) under the Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife, 'responsible for conserving and managing all wildlife resources in the country and ensuring that the resource gave back the best possible returns to individuals and the nation' (Otuoma 2004: 5).
During the independence struggle of 1952-1958 hunting was prohibited in Kenya. Following the lack of control over poaching, all hunting and capture of wildlife including licensed sport hunting was banned in 1977 (Legal Notice No. 120) and the handling and trading of game trophies and other wildlife products was banned in 1978-1979 (Act No. 5 and Legal Notice No. 181) (KWS 1994: 25, Otuoma 2004: 5, Lamprey & Reid 2004: 998). In addition the extension of protected areas and the Presidential Directive prohibiting all hunting and animal capture of 1984 (Otuoma 2004: 36) made it increasingly difficult for local communities to use their wildlife resources: Sport hunting had accounted for revenues equal to game viewing tourism (Lamprey & Reid 2004: 998), and hunting for the pot had been important for many communities.
Realizing the burden of wildlife conservation measures for local communities, the Game Department had already started giving grants to local authorities for the construction of public facilities such as schools and dispensaries and to pay compensation for wildlife induced loss of property (Otuoma 2004: 5). From the 1950s on the management and benefits of protected areas were handed over to local county councils to ensure local people benefited from wildlife, the Masai Mara being one of the three principal areas (Lamprey & Reid 2004: 998, Western & Henry 1979: 417). The government gave large grants to develop the area for tourism, while the Maasai were encouraged to settle in group ranches surrounding the National Reserve, giving them the opportunity to benefit directly from it (Lamprey & Reid 2004: 999). However, in 1988 while the Mara accounted for a tenth of all tourist bednights in Kenya, of the tourism revenues less than 1% accrued to local Maasai and under a tenth remained in the District as council revenues or wages to local employees (Emerton n.d.: 6).