The daily challenges of the Masai

If I ever run into God, I will put a spear through Him.

These words of a young Masai reflect frustration and disappointment. In the past centuries as a semi-nomadic tribe, Nilotic pastoral people, the Masai have experienced dramatic changes, which have had a huge impact on their daily lives and keep challenging them.

They are not native Tanzanian. Supposedly they began migrating in the 16th century, coming from South Sudan, moving towards to the lands of today Kenya and Tanzania. They extended their influence and territories in those two countries slowly but firmly. They were remarkably aggressive and proud people. The Masai trained warriors and stood up against other tribes, slave-traders always successfully. 

In the middle of the 19th century, the situation changed radically and the proud Masai tribe had to face devastating political challenges, drought, cattle-plague, smallpox epidemics and the loss of their best feeding grounds in addition to their inner conflicts. Furthermore many of their former settlement areas (as Ngorongoro, Masai Mara, Serengeti) have been depopulated to give space for the national parks.

It is true that the Masai have become more and more have sedentary, influenced by the government and their losses, but now especially the men and sometimes even whole families are forced to move around due to the lack of water and food in their assigned areas. This comes at high costs for the families. It takes them three to four kilometers afoot to get to the watering site from their Bomas. Women of the family are in charge of getting water and they also have to carry it in containers on their heads for many miles. The climate is changing so now the rainy season stays away pretty often and the old-established watering sites cannot give enough water for the surrounding population. Therefore, the center of their lives, their cattle is in danger. The cattle provide everything the Masai need for survival and when the animals die of dehydration, the villagers’ lives are also at risk.

To make matters worse, the population density is constantly rising. According to Paul Berger, there were 50.000 Masai in Kenya and 35.000 in Tanzania in 1946. Newer censuses showed that in 1989 there were 377.089 Masai just in Kenya. Tanzania did not discern the difference between tribes in their censuses, because of the past socialist influences, however it is estimated, including both countries, that the number of Masai has reached more than one million. Most of the Masai families have many children and the growth rate of the population is very high. Consequences for many are disastrous: poverty, lack of hygiene, high infant mortality rate, infections (aids, tuberculosis, skin diseases, …) and no future perspectives.

Stefan Höschele and László Szabó, two lecturers of Friedensau Adventist University have been working on several different projects among the Masai in Tanzania since 1995. They have started a developmental project in Longido and have built schools and have financed teachers in multiple remote villages.