04 July, 2007

The Masai: The Greatest Warriors Of Africa

To me, the Greatest warriors in Africa are the Masais. It's said that: 'respect is won and not/never demanded'. As a tribe, as a people - of all the African tribes, the Masais have won my uttermost admiration and respect.

To many, they may seem backwards. To many, they may seem as a people who have 'clinged' to the past and hence 'remained' behind. To many, they may seem too arrogant and proud. But that is what makes the Masais distinct and unique. Distinct and unique in a very positive way. That's what has won the Masais; respect, admiration and attention, worldwide.

My personal experience with Masais, is what has made me respect and admire them as highly as I do. Wherever I find or see them, they always have this distinct, dignified, composure; always detached and full of pride - at times, arrogant and stubborn. The more traditional and conservative the Masai is, the more so. The few Masais I have had the honor and luck of befriending - have been friends indeed. And the few Masais, I have worked with, have always been people who keep their word and are always honorable in what they do and say; and very reliable and trustworthy.

Come to think of it, I personally have never met a Masai begging or involved in some demoralizing activity. Truck driver relatives and friends of mine, many of whom drive trucks across the whole of East Africa - say, very rarely have they come across or seen a Masai prostitute. To Masais, a people who value 'honor' highly, women have to reflect the Masai honor and dignity even more so.

Due to the Masais distinct and unique nature, governments, past and present, in both Kenya and Tanzania - where Masais live - have always had to govern and relate to the Masais in a more different, special way. Ever since white men came to eastern Africa, they have been having unhappy kind of love affair with the Masai people. Unhappy, because admiration and exasperation have been almost equally blended in the feelings towards these handsome, arrogant and stubborn tribesmen. Almost, if not quite, alone among the tribes of eastern Africa, the Masai have turned their backs upon the prizes and temptations off by the West.

The great majority of other African peoples have, after initial period of suspicious hesitation, grasped at those offerings with both hands: at western medicine and education and, after a certain lentgh of time, at western technology, the open sesame to that glittering go higher standard of living. They have set their feet on the path to the consumer society. Not the Masai. For a long time, it is true, there have been school and hospitals in Masai land; there are university graduates, professors, Ministers of State - even a lady who in 1970 became the first Masai woman to graduate from Nairobi University.

But, by and large, near years of colonial rule and attempted persuasion, followed by more than 25 years of African rule and attempted persuasion, have failed to do more than dent the fabric of custom and tradition. Almost within sight of Nairobi's tower blocks and traffic jams, the Masai have continued to practise their ancient rituals and ceremonies; they have continued to maintain their age-set structure with its warrior caste of haughty, swift and predatory moran - storm troopers or commandos of the tribal world.

Whatever one might think of the Masais, like them, hate them or detest them, one thing is certain: the Masais always win respect, admiration and attention. And have been and are the focus of numerous books and films. More than any other sub-Sahara African tribe. And probably, more than any other tribe or people in Africa.

Photo from: friendlyplanet.com

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