The East African tribe ‘Maasai’ can be found in Kenya and certain parts of Tanzania. Their subsistence strategy has primarily been pastoral for several centuries. The Maasai herd cows, sheep and goats for a livelihood as they depend on the meat and milk for their survival. The Maasai are also semi-nomadic people, making them pastoral nomads (O’Neil 2). This helps them move from place to place, in search of better climatic and external conditions suitable for raising their herd animals.
They constantly move to areas having greener pastures and adequate water to ensure that their livestock are healthier; it also facilitates grass growing back again in areas that have been grazed by cattle. Their choice of location would also depend upon other factors such as safety from predators such as lions. The Maasai do not construct permanent settlements as they are constantly on the move; they live in temporary dwellings that are simple to construct.
The social structure of the Maasai has played a key role in preserving the tribe’s primary subsistence strategy as pastoral for centuries. The age-based social structure is quite fair and consistent as there is no discrimination based on caste or familial segregations. However, there are certain gender-based roles and customs within the tribe. The men are divided into the youths, the warriors also know as ‘moran’, and the elders. On the other hand, the young girls get married to warrior men, bear children and raise them; the women can also become elders after their bear four children.
The youths become warriors around the “age of 13 to 17” and move to a different village, live in unsecure enclosures called ‘manyatta’ built by their mothers and eventually get married (Martin 7). It is the duty of the warriors to ensure that the tribe is safe and cattle are protected from predators. They are mentally conditioned as well as physically trained from a very young age to perform this duty. The Maasai women specialize in building houses from sticks, mud and cow dung.
This helps the tribe to move from place to place easily and sustain their semi-nomadic way of life. The Maasai men also build thorn fences to keep their cattle safe in enclosures. The elders are supposed to impart wisdom and live passive lives, as the responsibilities and duties of the tribe pass over to the next generation of warriors. The authority figure in their social system is a person known as laibon, roughly translated as ’medicine man’; the ‘laibon’ also fills the religious needs of the tribe and practices shamanism for healing.
This uniform socio-cultural structure lends stability and contributes to the subsistence of the Maasai way of life, as there is very little room for rebellion within the group. Many aboriginal cultures around the world are going through transition due to modernization and the Maasai are no exception to this rule. Urbanization had led to the Maasai being confined to smaller areas, thus threatening their way of life. To cope with these changes, a small segment of the tribe has recently changed its subsistence strategy to agriculture, fishing and taking menial jobs in urbanized areas.
The tourism industry promoted by the government has compelled certain Maasai tribes to diverge away from their self-sufficient lifestyle and act as showpieces for tourists (Akama 717). However, the Maasai still retain certain aspects of their cultural identify such as speaking a language called ‘Maa’ and wearing a red cloth called the ‘shuka’; they also pierce their earlobes and adorn large metal earrings. Despite the influence of the modern world, a large segment of the Maasai tribe is still quite self-sufficient as they produce their own food from cattle and take care of other needs such as shelter and medicine.
Works Cited Page Akama, John. Marginalization of the Maasai in Kenya. Annals of Tourism Research, Volume 26, Number 3, July 1999. Martin, Marlene. Society-MASAI. The Center for Social Anthropology and Computing. June 14, 2009, <http://lucy. ukc. ac. uk/EthnoAtlas/Hmar/Cult_dir/Culture. 7860> O’Neil, Dennis. (2007). Patterns of Subsistence: Pastoralism. Palomar College. June 14, 2009, <http://anthro. palomar. edu/subsistence/sub_3. htm>
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