CAA Saskatchewan Summer 2018 - Page 28

A choir of Maasai singers; sundown on the Mara (above) during A Trip To the rural village of Sikirar, we pass hundreds of hump- necked Boran cattle being herded at the side of the road, en route to the nearby river. Cows, I quickly learn, are prized creatures here. Not only are they a main source of sustenance for their milk, meat and even blood, cows are Maasai indicators of wealth. Success is defined by herd size—the more you have, the richer you are. A herd of 50 qualifies as upper-middle class. Another traditional status symbol is the killing of a lion. For centuries before lion populations plummeted, a young warrior would slaughter a big cat as part of his initiation. It was con- sidered a righteous act that respected the animal’s spirit, while protecting local cattle from the hungry predators. Using traditional weapons—a spear and rungu, a round-headed club—the warrior would have to single-handedly kill the lion. Jackson recounts his own initiation, in which he took down a massive beast with only his spear. Kenya outlawed the practice (and all big-game hunting) in 1977, but many Maasai continued the prohibited rite of passage. Over the past decade, however, 28 Summer 2018 CAA SASKATCHeWAN Mama Jane near her home tribal elders have come to recognize the importance of conservation to their community, and have agreed to ban the ritual killing—making Jackson and his generation the Maasai’s last lion killers. AT A rurAl homesTeAd , I turn my attention from warriors to women. Though Maasai culture remains patriarchal, women—referred to as “mamas,” even if they’re childless—play important roles in the home and their economic contributions are evolving. Down a winding dirt path from the main road, we approach a neat house surrounded by flowerbeds and a don- key pasture. A tall, energetic woman rushes to greet us. Mama Jane is one of her community’s leading entrepre- neurs. I learn how she now provides much of her family’s income, thanks to a cooperative of village women, who make and sell intricate beaded jewellery. Mama Jane explains traditional women’s work, which includes child- rearing, building the family manyatta (home) of mud and sticks, and milking livestock. But a woman’s main domestic duty is water—going to the river to get all of the family’s water for drinking, cooking, washing and bathing. Mama Jane invites our group to follow her path to the river to fetch a 20-litre jug of river water. It’s a task she and other women often perform five or six times a day. The two- kilometre trek is picturesque and quite enjoyable. But once I fill my jug, swing it on my back with its strap over my forehead (the typical method of carrying it), the rocky path is less pretty and much more grueling. Some village kids gather to watch the novice North Americans clumsily lug their jugs. It’s an exercise every visitor should try for a real-world understanding of Maasai life. After several days with Jackson, Mama Jane and other villagers, I end my visit to the Mara with an evening game drive. A naughty-looking hyena trots after our vehicle. We turn a corner and nearly run into a towering giraffe, munching on tall tree branches. Though I’m not lucky enough to spot a leopard this time, I tell myself it’s okay; I decided days ago that I’ll visit again. I will see another leopard on my next trip to the mysterious and magical Mara. years old, but it turns out I was in my early twenties.” When I ask why most men are miss- ing two front teeth, Jackson explains that it’s a cosmetic ritual performed on both baby and permanent teeth. “It’s a way to differentiate ourselves from other tribes. And for us, it is a sign of beauty,” he says, flashing a big grin.