More than 200 years ago the Maasai ruled over much of east Africa. Their warriors or “Morans” were renowned for their bravery and cattle stealing escapades. Of Africa’s many tribes the Maasai have struggled to maintain a special relationship with their cattle, and have protected their culture against the pressures or the modern age. The Pastoral Maasai are part of a large grouping of people who speak the MAA language and live in Northern Tanzania and Southern Kenya.
During our trip we were lucky enough to visit the Ilkangere village. During our visit the Maasai of this village shared a tour of their houses, the medicines they use, and demonstrated for us how they bleed a cow to get the blood without killing it.
Bloodletting a Cow
This video has graphic content.
Cow blood is a main food source for the Maasai. Cattle is a source of income, wealth and social standing for the Maasai so it is important this is done without killing the animal. To obtain this they will hold the cow down, make a small puncture in the jugular and drain some of the blood. They then patch up the puncture. This is only done every 6 months so the cow can recover from the process.
The Maasai are a semi-nomadic people who lived under a communal land management system. The movement of livestock is based on seasonal rotation. The Maasai people of East Africa live in southern Kenya and northern Tanzania along the Great Rift Valley on semi-arid and arid lands.
The Maasai are a polygamous society, with the men having up to 3 or 4 wives. This is supported by their birth rates of about 3 to 1, women to men. The daily workload is split by the sexes where the men, guard the village, manage the cattle and take them to pasture; the women keep the home, care for the kids and gather water.
Although cattle is their primary form of currency, many of the Maasai in areas close to national parks also participate in tourism by allowing tourists to tour their villages and creating intricately beaded crafts to sell. Because of their nomadic culture and with agreement with the government, the Maasai are allowed to freely cross the Kenya/Tanzania border with no passport to move their cattle for grazing.
The Maasai live in Kraals arranged in a circular fashion. The fence around the kraal is made of acacia thorns, which prevent lions from attacking the cattle. It is a man’s responsibility to fence the kraal. While women construct the houses. Traditionally, kraals are shared by an extended family. However, due to the new land management system in the Maasai region, it is not uncommon to see a kraal occupied by a single family.
The Inkajijik (maasai word for a house) are loaf-shaped and made of mud, sticks, grass, cow dung and cow’s urine. Women are responsible for making the houses as well as supplying water, collecting firewood, milking cattle and cooking for the family. Warriors are in charge security while boys are responsible for herding livestock. During the drought season, both warriors and boys assume the responsibility for herding livestock. The elders are directors and advisors for day-to-day activities. Every morning before livestock leave to graze, an elder who is the head of the inkang sits on his chair and announces the schedule for everyone to follow.