THE MASAI ( spelt “Maasai” in Kenyan) have a long and very rich heritage with many still following their traditional, colorful ways. The wealth of a Masai was reflected in the number of animals they owned and wealthy Masai have owned as many as 5000 cows.
Traditionally, Masai girls are married at ages around ages 13 to 14 years. Delivering a child at this age carries high risk and complications. Polygamy is practiced and traditionally, many old men marry young girls and have multiple wives. Recently, Masai girls have been encouraged to attend high school, resulting in the delaying of their marriage. Traditionally, Masai girls are bought with a dowrythat may consist of many cows, goats, sheep, blankets and money. Only Masai men with many cows marry many wives while educated Masai men commonly marry only one wife.
One old Masai man was known to have up to 17 wives! Another old Masai man married 14 wives!
Until recently, Masai were pastoral, following the rain to greener pastures across the open ranges. Recently, other tribes have been encroaching on the once free grazing land of the Masai. Now the government has demarcated the land with male Masai receiving title deeds that minimize the encroachment. Since many fences have been erected those Masai with many animals now find it difficult to feed them.
Masai were then forced to find other ways to feed their families and pay school fees. In the last few years, we have developed “demonstration plots” to show the female Masai, mainly, other ways to generate income. These included producing honey, gardens to raise vegetables, upgrading quality of cow breeds, goats and sheep to produce more milk with fewer animals. Traditionally, Masai cows produced very little milk. In fact a good goat can provide more milk than their cows!