The first time we heard about the Maasai in Hell’s Gate National Park was sitting in a classroom where the conservation specialist gave us an introduction. We remember her words like this: “The Maasai that used to live around here are settled, the government set up homes for them and land… They’re not living in the Manyattas any longer and have nice houses, they’re very civilized now”. With those words, we headed for the Valley of Death, the ancient grazing grounds for the Maasai people and their cattle. Walking through the gorge and up the ridge, we entered the center of the Maasai village. In the short time we had, they showed us some of the important parts of their traditions. The Maasai, believing they originated from the heavens, thought they could get closer to their origins by jumping for the sky – which they performed during a ritualistic dance.
Some members of our group were particularly engaged with the village elders. What they heard, and later shared with us was not what we were told that morning. Having been forced out of the village that had been home for 50 years, they felt like strangers in their new settlement. They were living between worlds- trying to hold on to their traditional ways but also trying to fit in with modern society. As we watched them jump for the heavens we couldn’t help but wonder if their future was also up in the air.
By: Patrick Mugabe and Sevan Boudakian (MMASc in Global Health Systems in Africa Candidates) and Erika Freeman (Collaborative Program in Global Health Systems Candidate)