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Choose a media piece about a ‘dispossessed’ culture (and you must define ‘dispossessed’). This can be an article, television show, website or event and could relate to a region, minority group, social class or specific cause. Essay Example

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12The Maasai Community

The Maasai Community


The study focus is on the Maasai community, an ethnic group in Kenya. This resulted from a website article titled; Corruption and Impunity: Illegal Dispossession of Indigenous Maasai Land in Kenya by Ben Ole Koissaba dated August 22, 2013.

The community inhabits the southern part of Kenya and northern Tanzania (Mathara et al 2004). They are among the minority language group in the country. They are nomadic pastoralist surviving solely on animal diet though in the recent past have been slowly incorporating vegetables and maize in their diet. They have been living in the southern part of Nairobi occupying two districts. However, in the last decade other communities have slowly dispossessed them from their area of operation. This has resulted to growing concerns of the sustainability of their pastoralist lifestyle due to the decreasing grazing land now turned into farms. In continuation of the study, we need to have an understanding of the term dispossessed.

Dispossessed is a situation whereby another person removes one from his area of operation. This usually happens because of forceful engagement that result to one party abandoning his possessions and flees in a bid to save his life or to avoid direct confrontation. In other cases, circumstances may force an individual or a group of people to leave their properties at free will or ousted as in the case of a tenant who fails to meet the payment schedule as agreed to the property owner. This may caused by the occurrence of weather vagaries such as floods and landslides and others. Other incidences, people may be ousted from their properties especially houses by other people as in the case of conflicts. The conflicts may be inter community where one community raids the other one and take belongings of the other community. Other cases may be during the civil war or by legal processes.

The culture under study here is a nomadic community inhabiting southern part of Kenya and northern Tanzania. Maasai is the name of this group of people and they are nilotes residing near game parks. They worship a god by the name of Enkai who is assuming to have two natures i.e. benevolent and vengeful. The religious leader in the Maasai community is the laibon whose roles are divination and prophecy. Livelihood of the Maasai is from cattle, which provide milk, meat and blood. Wealth in the Maasai community is in terms of children and cattle. It is the duty of Young men to take care of the livestock and only allowed to marry when they are old. However, women are to marry when young thereby creating a bigger age difference between wives and husbands (Tarayia 2004)

The social organization of the Maasai people mainly consists of the age sets. Young boys’ responsibility is that of taking care of the lambs and calves while girls take part in milking and cooking. A generation of morans (warriors) is done every fifteen years by boys of age of 12-25. A circumcision ceremony, which is without anaesthetic, marks the rite of passage from boyhood to warrior. The circumcised men live in shelters constructed by their mothers. The warriors are involved in cattle trading though in the past they were responsible for raiding cattle. Young women are ushered into adulthood by undergoing the excision. In Maasai community, a woman is not marriageable if she is uncircumcised and attracts a lesser bride price. The Maasai are generally polygamous though polyandry is also practiced (Galaty 1982)

The Maasai engages in music and dance. The singing and dancing is around the manyattas in the evenings. The warriors engages in a dancing that is reffered to as jumping dance whereby a circle is formed and two warriors enter the circle and start jumping. It is a custom among the Maasai to pierce and stretch their earlobes. It is done using thorns although men slowly abandon this custom nowadays. They also practice removal of canine teeth citing a belief that they contain a worm that is responsible for causing diarrhea and vomiting. The removal of teeth is done to children of the age between six months and two years.

The Maasai survive on a diet that consists of raw milk, raw blood, meat and some fruits. Nowadays they have included maize meal in their diet where they use the maize meal in cooking of porridge. The Maasai in the past has been strongly fixated on the animal diet but due to occurrence of droughts, they have gradually incorporated other meals in their diet. They live in temporal makeshift houses, which are constructed by women. These houses are locally known as manyattas, and are made of wood framework, which is then plastered using mud and cow dung. The house is usually 1.5 m high and is used for cooking, sleeping and for food storage.

Traditionally the Maasai used to wear hides and skins. However, their clothing nowadays depends on their age and where they are situated. They use cotton cloth, which comes in African designs that are multicolored. They also wear sandals that are made using animal hides. The Maasai are known for their ornamentation of their bodies with beads and weaves. The beads are made from a number of things ranging from clay, shells, bones, charcoal, wood, iron or brass. Shaving of head is very significant when it comes to the rites of passage. Boys’ head are shaved two days before they are circumcised and thereafter the young warriors are allowed to grow their hair. Before a Maasai woman is married, her head is shaved and any woman who has miscarried has her hair placed in front.

The history of the Maasai community records that this Nilotic group came to east Africa via Sudan. It is believed that the Maasai originated from the northwestern Kenya along the Nile valley. In 15th century, the Maasai began migrating towards the south and settled to the location that is central Tanzania and southern Kenya. In the process of migration, the Maasai displaced the already settled ethnic groups from their settlement. In the 19th century, the Maasai had occupied a greater part of the Great Rift Valley. Their warriors used to raid cattle from neighboring communities by use of shields and spears. They were recognized for their club throwing over long distances. In 1894, a large number of the Maasai people were wiped out by an outbreak of small pox that was followed by a severe drought.

In the early 20th century after the coming of the British, the Maasai lost a greater portion of their territorial land. This came after a treaty formed between the Maasai leaders and the British to pave way for the whites to establish ranches. This made the Maasai to relocate to the present day narok and kajiando districts. In Tanzania, the Maasai also lost much of their land to the European settlers who ousted them from their land. Much land was taken from the Maasai in efforts to create the national parks such as Tsavo, amboseli, Serengeti, Maasai mara, ngorongoro and others. Many ethnic groups have abandoned their traditional mode of living and adopted the modern ways. The Maasai are still reluctant despite efforts from both government from Tanzania and Kenya. The Maasai are divided into sectors, which include keekonyokie, damat, siria, loitai, kisonko and others. Each sector has its own leadership and operations.

There are many efforts carried out by the Maasai tribal leaders with an aim of protecting and preserving their traditions. However, these efforts are being frustrated by ever-increasing influences from the outside world. Gradually the Maasai people are beginning to adopt new ways of sustaining themselves apart from wholly relying on animal diet. This is attributed to the increasing population where some migrates to other areas of the country and get to learn other ways of survival. Loss of cattle due to frequent dry spells and diseases has pushed the Maasai to engage in other means of sustaining themselves. New park boundaries has limited their grazing area hence they have started cultivation of maize and vegetables.

Maasai in the recent past have been residing in the kajiado and narok districts. Due to their pastoral lifestyle, land is communally owned. They have been living that for generations and are still comfortable with that. However, in other parts of the country it is a different case all together. This is because land is individually owned with formal land registration with land title deeds. Despite this kind of land ownership, the Maasai have been the major providers of meat in Nairobi, Kenyan capital. This form of customary land ownership was put in place in Kenya shortly after the independence.

In the last three decades, the Kenyan government has been subdividing the Maasai land to various Maasai groups who had interest in starting up ranches. However, these groups have been disintegrating there by allotting land to few people. In the end, these ranches have ended up being subdivided into the constituent group members. On the contrary, this should not be happening since it is a breach of the law since the land is communally owned. All this malpractices are being done by individuals who using corruption to obtain those pieces of land. By this acts the Maasai are being dispossessed from the land they have long known as theirs. This is against the integrity of communal land ownership. The loss of land will be a major blow to the community.

Other communities that are not pastoral have been on the rise in purchasing of this community owned land. Most of these communities are prolific farmers and who has been luring the Maasai to sell the land. The issuing of title deeds to the land that is communally owned is dispossessing the land from its rightful owners. For this case, the Maasai are being deprived of their grazing land, which is the main medium through which they earn their livelihood. The influx of the other ethnic groups is being facilitated by corruption and political interventions where political leaders manipulate the land issuing process with an aim of maintaining of local power.

According to the UN International Labour office, (ILO) convention, which highlights that people who will be identified to be among those who tradionally own the land, will be permitted to have an ownership right. That is, any individual who belongs to the Maasai community will be allowed to possess and own a piece of land. Thus, he will be issued with full documents that pertain to land ownership such as land title deeds. However, any one not belonging to the Maasai community will not qualify to have a stake in the possession of such communal land. The convention from the ILO also asserts that it is the primary duty of the government to ensure that it has full recognition of this communal land to provide the inhabitants with full rights of land ownership (Swepston 1990)

However, these scenarios of residence claiming a stake of their ancestral land have been on the rise among the Maasai community. Many individuals have been formally registered as rightful landowners and being issued with title deeds. This has attracted buyers from the kikuyu and gusii communities. These two communities are prolific farmers and business people. Therefore, they have been purchasing land from those Maasai individuals who have already claimed their stake on the community land thereby dispossessing them. This has usually resulted to ethnical clashes between the Maasai and kikuyu during elections period. This is after realization that, them. Maasai have been exploited of their political influence thereby resulting to start evicting them from their possessions. These leads to serious conflicts between the two communities thereby raising many questions as to how the land rights of the arrivals will be harmonized with that of the customary/ traditionally land rights.

The cases of dispossession among the Maasai community has been on the rise in the last decade. This act of a person dispossessing another has been happening even amongst the Maasai themselves. This is evident from a case reported whereby individuals could form groups and receive land as a collective holding. Several members of group by the name Ewuaso Kedong’ were given 800 acres of land. They sub divided it among themselves as they wished. However, after sometime more than half of these individuals had sold all of their land. Ironically, though they ceased being rightful members of the group, went back to the group demanding for more land. Later the group decided to subdivide the land to the individual members having noted that the increase of the community land being sub divided to the individuals. This raised eyebrows as to who should be included in the register or not. There was a lot of debate as whether to include the young men who initially were not there in the beginning and those who had already sold their share earlier.

The Ewuaso group formed a committee in order to facilitate the subdivision process. The committee faced contentious decision as to who would own the land or not. The committee arrived to a conclusion that the younger age group not to be registered for ownership. The committee also asserted that only those who hailed from the area were eligible for registration. These decisions locked out many people from owning a land though there were genuine and members of the Maasai community. However, the whole process ended being a judicial case since committee ended up receiving bribes thereby allocating land to members of other communities and who were not residences of that location. The committee also allocated land to their kins and friends thereby ignoring the laid down policies that provided the guidelines for land subdivision.

Similar cases with that of Ewuso group have been on the rise in the Maasai land. Many individual have been dispossessed of their rightful ownership of land. This act of dispossessing has been on the rise due to corrupt committees. These committees have been failing resulting to many of them abolished by the court of law and forming new ones. In a neighboring group by the name of Elangata, many people lost their share of land due to the malpractices conducted by the committee entrusted to subdivide the land. Following a court decision, a new committee was formed to replace the older one. Many of the Maasai people have found themselves dispossessed their land I favour of other communities who are not pastoralists in the first place.

The dispossession of land among the Maasai community is not solely dependent on committees but also by members themselves. After the sub division of the ranches, the individual members are each issued with legal documents of land ownership. Therefore, an individual can later willingly decide to sell their land legally. However, the high level of illiteracy among the Maasai community has led to many individuals selling their land without an understanding. They usually use the money acquired from the sale of land wastefully. This has resulted to the other communities such as kikuyu occupying bigger portion of the Maasai land.

A lot of the Maasai land has ended up being owned by other communities who are not even pastoralists. This has led to serious implications among the Maasai community. One of the implications is that the Maasai have lost large tracts of grazing land for their animals, which have now been converted, to farmland by these new arrivals. Their animals now have to use the remaining grazing land, which is not enough for all of them. This pose a threat to their sustainability of their grazing lands in support of their livelihood, which is majorly reliant on animal diet. Overcrowding in the grazing land has resulted land degradation where the grass cover is removed exposing the land to soil erosion. These have led to loss of soil nutrients therefore diminishing the productive capacity of the grazing land. This results to insufficient pasture for the cattle therefore undermining the sustenance of pastralism.

It is therefore evident of how the Maasai community has lost their precious grazing land caused by a number of several factors. This is due to their nomadic lifestyle and communal land ownership. However, due to the emerging trends of individualism, the Maasai have not escaped the shift therefore; they have found themselves subdividing land. However, their low literacy level has exposed them to exploitation by the kikuyu community. The kikuyu community has taken advantage of the Maasai illiterate level. They have manipulated the land subdivision processes. They have done this by offering bribes to people in various positions. They have massively bought land from the individuals and have ended up owning large portion of the Maasai land slowly dispossessing them from ancestral land (Galaty1992). If this trend continues then the Maasai community is in danger of losing their cultural heritage.

The Maasai have been occupying this region for generations and hence are the rightful owners. They way of lifestyle has been that of nomadic and therefore has been grazing in this territory for ages. The kikuyu on the other hand practices farming as their chief economic practice. The kikuyu centrally placed in the nation however due to the increasing population they have migrated all over the country in search of farming land. This has resulted to their invasion of the Maasai land threatening to dispossess them of their valuable ancestral land.

In conclusion, there is a need for the government to come up with comprehensive land rights and ownership policies. This will eradicate any illicit land ownership. It will also ensure that no deprivation occurs to those with rights to land. This will be in an effort to protect the pastoral community from losing out their ancestral land through dispossession by other non-pastoral communities. There need the government to establish stern penalties for acts of illegal and unethical land acquisitions. Massive corruption in the country has made the law to become a fancied tool for propagating dispossession. Therefore, reforms in the Land sector and the judicial system are insurmountable. The reforms should be followed by measures to regulate the pursuit of individual land in the Maasai community. This will greatly benefit the community by shielded from dispossession and loss of land.


Galaty, J. G. (1982). being “Maasai”; being “people‐of‐cattle”: ethnic shifters in East Africa. American ethnologist, 9(1), 1-20.

Galaty, J. G. (1992). Social and economic factors in the privatization, sub-division and sale of Maasai ranches. Nomadic Peoples, 30, 26-40.

Kantai, P. (2007). In the Grip of the Vampire State: Maasai land struggles in Kenyan politics. Journal of Eastern African Studies, 1(1), 107-122.

Mathara, J. M., Schillinger, U., Kutima, P. M., Mbugua, S. K., & Holzapfel, W. H. (2004). Isolation, identification and characterisation of the dominant microorganisms of< i> kule naoto</i>: the Maasai traditional fermented milk in Kenya. International journal of food microbiology, 94(3), 269-278.

Swepston, L. (1990). New Step in the International Law on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples: ILO Convention No. 169 of 1989, A. Okla. City UL Rev., 15, 677.

Tarayia, G. N. (2004). Legal Perspectives of the Maasai Culture, Customs, and Traditions, The. Ariz. J. Int’l & Comp. L., 21, 183.