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Kenya

the maasai

The Maasai are a proud, semi-nomadic people who live in the southern region of the Great Rift Valley in Kenya and northern Tanzania. Maasai men traditionally wear a red blanket, once made of red-dyed animal skin but now of cloth. Whether walking the streets of Nairobi or along a dirt path in the bush, they are easily recognized by the possession of a stick or staff (for protection and herding) and by their red clothing. Women wear brightly colored cloth draped around themselves along with layers of beads around their neck. They are known for their beautiful beadwork found in all forms of jewelry and decorated clothing.

As pastoralists, the Maasai spend most of their time herding animals and looking for good grazing lands. Cattle are a symbol of wealth to the Maasai, who take great pride in their large herds. The Maasai do little farming, although cultivation is possible in some parts of their territory. Their primary sources of nutrition are cow’s milk, blood and meat, ugali (a kind of maize flour), and beans.

Traveling south or west from Nairobi, one finds traditional cow-dung dwellings with thatch roofs scattered across the countryside. Extended families live together in small clusters of homes (called manyattas) surrounded by thorn fences. In the evening, they bring their animals inside the thorn fence with them so that they are protected from wild animals.

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