Monday, 17 June 2013


I recall while in secondary at Ilboru, Arusha where numbers of Maasai children was high, fights among us boys due to teasing were frequent. Mostly they were resolved verbally, but at times ended in dramatic formal duels. When one of these clashes occurred we would cluster around a circle to watch. One of the memorable ones was between a Hehe teenager and a Maasai. Hehe boys were few at Ilboru as they were from a far away Iringa region while Maasai being the majority tended to be cocky and proud. You did not mess with Maasai (or Waarusha), this was their homeland. The word for non- Maasai person “Ol Meeki” was freely used (just like we Chaggas had “Kyasaka” for a similar description).
On this late afternoon the Hehe warrior, unsmiling and valiant faced his adversary supported by a frenzied and partisan crowd. 

We all know how Hehes led by Chief Mkwawa (pictured above) fiercely resisted German colonialists at the end of the 19th century; likewise were Maasai- who according to Wikipedia “stood against slavery and the traffic of human beings although they were able to conquer large areas of land by displacing people who had been previously living there.”
So as we rallied around eagerly witnessing the two stallions it was with mixed trepidation, if not curiosity. Some lookouts guarded the small enclave, beside a small stream and beautiful Arusha greens, making sure no snooping teacher would burst in unnoticed. The fight went on and on with both sides lashing, throwing impassioned blows.  Ten minutes into it with each bleeding at various areas of the face suddenly the Hehe chap grabbed the Maasai, threw and pinned him on the green grass, then starring squarely into his eyes asked in Swahili:
 “Do you give up?”
 Both were short tempered, unrelenting warriors; the Maasai somehow managed to change the equation and was soon on top of his ferocious opponent. However, they were not ground fighting pugilists, they preferred being on their feet – lashing limbs continuously. Then the Maasai started running, out of our spectator circle to nearby shrubs. He picked up what we realised was a thick stick and with a recharged glint of hope and a devilish grin, faced his fellow Iringa warrior. The stick had already been planted there, secretly, by one of his pals.
“No rungus! No weapons!” We screamed.
Beneath the yelling and protest, one of the vigilant call outs warned an approaching menace, the powerful head teacher – we feared for he was nicknamed “Chest”...end of the show; we scattered.
Given time, the Maasai would have used that stick, or “rungu” –a standard weapon that Maasais usually stroll with besides spears and large Sime knives.  I can’t remember whether those two ever fought again, but I remember this serious incident further established a feeling about Maasais characteristics and a concept of lingering Tanzania’s warrior tribes.
Maasais : proud of their roots

 In 1972 a couple of Tanzanian students from Ilboru were killed by Idi Amin cohorts in Uganda. I knew one who was a Maasai.  I can still see him in my mind- tall, loud, arrogant- I always wonder how he would have faced Idi Amin’s soldiers.  Did he die fighting on his proud legs?
Maasais are as fascinating as American natives, European gypsies, Brazilian (Murunduku, Huni Kui) Indians, the last of humanity’s traditional tribes revered for their enduring customs.
Recent news about alleged Maasai’s eviction from the Loliondo region has put Tanzania on the radar- world wide. It is negative news. As negative as the Albino killings a few years ago.  In 1959, a decree pushing Maasais out of Serengeti to make way for this famous game park was implemented.  However, during those colonial days it would not have caused much uproar.
Last week, Al Jazeera broadcasted an interview with “Survival International” representative Jo Woodman calling the world community to write letters to President Jakaya Kikwete to stop the alleged evictions.
Al Jazeera’s broadcast and Survival International is part of many global networks extremely critical of the move allegedly favouring a hunting company from the Middle East.
Others are Professor Elliot Fratkin (who laments about how Maasais as an indigenous people have always been uprooted from their roots by private capital) Star Africa, Jason Patinkin (Kenyan blogger) and Cape Town based African Budget Safari Blog which says: “Tanzania’s own Maasai people one of Africa’s oldest tribes stand to lose the lands they have depended for survival over centuries, so that foreign tourists can come shoot lions, leopards, antelopes and other wild animals.”
The Diaspora Messenger blog warns of the manner in which the whole exercise has been alleging Otterlo Business Corp uses “threats, intimidation” as well as hunting unethically by machine guns, i.e.  Not caring for the environment. I wonder how would nation founder, Julius Nyerere react if he heard our peace loving image is being questioned, criticised and ruffled?

Also published in Citizen Tanzania


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