The Lost Tribe of Israel?
Acquaint yourself with the Masai Culture
The Maasai are sometimes called Nilo-Hamitic (the Hamites came from north Africa) and all Maasai tribes share the Maa language (hence their name Maasai; they share the Maa language with the Samburu tribe from whom they split some time ago). They have been proposed as the “Lost Tribe of Israel” because of their history.
Civilisation developed quickly along the coast of Kenya with Roman inhabitation in the first few centuries AD; this led to increased commerce with Arabs, Persians, Indians and Chinese over the following centuries. Muslims came from Arabia and Shirazis from Persia, leading to a strong Arab influence along the coast line between the 8th and 13th centuries AD – and the creation of trading posts at Mombasa, Lamu, Malindi and Zanzibar. The Swahili language (or more correctly Kiswahili language) started developing from the Arabic/Bantu mix.
The Maasai Arrive
It is thought that the Maasai left their home in the Nile valley around the fifteenth or sixteenth century, reaching the Great Rift Valley and down into Tanzania between the seventeenth and late eighteenth century. This was around the same time of great Portuguese influence on the coast with the great explorer Vasco de Gama arriving in 1498.
The Maasai are divided into a number of clans and sections, some of which occupy the Mara region.
Their Reputation and Appearance
The Maasai are one of the best known African tribes although not as politically powerful as the Luo or Kikuyu.The word “maasai-itis” has been coined to describe the western obsession with the Maasai.
Perhaps they are so well known because of their tall elegant muscular features or their fierce, brave, stubborn and arrogant reputation; or maybe because of their simple yet distinctive appearance with ochre-covered warriors proudly holding their spear and wearing their bright blood-red shoulder cloak (shuka) and the women wearing bangles and strings of coloured beads around their neck (both sexes wear earrings, taking pride in stretching large holes in their ear lobes). The men sometimes cover their braided hair with a fatty ochre paste and may wear an elaborate head-dress, perhaps of a lion mane or eagle/ostrich feathers, during some ceremonies; the women generally have shaved heads (head-shaving is a significant feature of some rituals, both for men and women).
Already under great pressure from foreign influence and some inter-tribal warfare, the Maasai were deeply affected when rinderpest (a cattle disease) struck their herds around 1880-1890; the reduced grazing led to more woodland which encouraged breeding of the harmful Tse tse fly. The Maasai were also hit with drought, famine, smallpox and cholera. In 1910 they were forced out of even more of their homeland which had already been bisected by the Kenya/Uganda railway, and in the early 1960′s they lost yet more of their territory during the government land redistribution programmes (including the creation of the Masai Mara Game Reserve).