Maasai face hard times with drought

Maasai pastoralists

Maasai pastoralists

The Maasai, perhaps the most famous of the Kenyan tribes, live in southwestern Kenya, mostly herding cattle and making what they can from the tourists. They largely still live in traditional villages — mud and dung huts and fences made of forest brush.

(A minority have integrated into more modern societies, but they almost always wear the traditional red patterned shawl.)

However, given East Africa’s prolonged drought, the Maasai are having an increasingly difficult time feeding their cows and goats — the lifeblood of their tradition. The grasses they own communally are mostly exhausted, driving more and more Maasai into the game reserves for grazing pastures, which are protected for the benefit of tourists.

That means regularly a Maasai is caught with his herd inside the park; the villagers say he is roughed up a bit, made to watch while ranger impound the cattle and then forced to pay a 10,000 shilling fine (almost $150), which might be as much as he “earns” in six months.

Of course, the Maasai, as a pastoral and traditional community, are largely left out of modern politics in Nairobi. They allege that they get little return from the profits of the game reserve, despite the steady stream of tourists that pay $60 a day just to set foot inside.

However, the Maasai may be a bit over dramatic here, and some critics suggest that if pastoral communities are running out of grazing land, that’s perhaps their own fault for overgrazing and keeping too-large herds. The Maasai are traditionally loathe to sell cattle, as ownership is a point of pride and identity.

I’m still reporting this story, so I’ll stop there for now.

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One Response to “Maasai face hard times with drought”

  1. Royal Says:
    September 25th, 2009 at 6:36 pm

    While you’re eating goat and building dung huts, Tom DeLay is appearing on “Dancing with the Stars.” God bless America.

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