Maasai tribes in Tanzania

by Kayla Magazine

Today’s story I will start by telling you about the place we are heading in. We are in Tanzania, which is in the east of Africa. I must mention that it is an ethnically rich country. There are more than a hundred different languages and tribes living in this land. The most famous of all is the Maasai tribe.

Although Tanzania ranks among the 30 poorest countries in the world, economists consider it to be one of the countries with the strongest growing economies in East Africa. Tanzania’s economy is based on agriculture and its development is being actively promoted by the country’s authorities. On the other hand, due to modernization, nomadic tribes face enormous challenges and even the threat of extinction.

Trip To Maasai tribe

After a long drive, we finally made it to northern Tanzania. Through the windows of our car, we could see mountains looming in the distance. We were somewhere near the hills behind Mount Kilimanjaro. The African Savannah has ended. Now we’re in the jungle. Along with other travellers, we left the city of North Arusha on a dusty, unpaved road. We embarked on a nearly full-day trip to the villages of Tanzania in the Kitet region. It is notable for the Maasai tribe that lives there.

Maasai clothing

It is not difficult to recognize the Maasai people. They do not wear traditional clothing. Instead they cover their bodies with several layers of multicolored cotton sheets. Clothing changes by age and location. Our travel guide Moison grew up in a traditional Maasai family. He says that Maasai soldiers can be recognized by their bright red clothes. Others who haven’t yet become soldiers wear blue sheets, and elderly members of the tribe usually wear dark red clothing. On our way to the Maasai tribe, we saw a herd of cattle accompanied by the Maasai tribe’s man. Nomadic animal husbandry is the main source of livelihood for the Maasai tribes and the most significant part of their culture.


Maasai tribe

We drove through insurmountable roads to reach one of the Maasai communities living on the outskirts of civilization. Maasai tribe’s men greeted us with traditional song and dance, and women watched the tribal meeting sitting a bit further away. Maasai women usually do not speak and do not actively participate in the meetings. We’ve introduced ourselves to the tribe. After the meeting we talked to each other individually. I talked with Paulina, one of the Maasai women. So, I asked: How does a Maasai day look like?

Usual Maasai day

“We get up early in the morning, milk the cows, prepare food for our children, so that they can take the animals to the fields. Then we have to bring water from the pools, tidy the house. We face many problems. The first one – the lack of water. We have to walk tens of kilometers to pick it up, and it is not clean. The next issue is health. The doctor is very far away, and even if we could reach it, we would not necessarily get all the medical help or medication we need. Our women have to carry water, collect timber, build houses. The biggest problem is related to land. Today, we have no land to graze animals.” – said Paulina. Another interesting thing for me was that Maasai people don’t shower, but I couldn’t smell unpleasant odour from them.


Nomadic livestock farming is the main source of Maasai livelihood

Lack of land is one of the biggest problems for nomadic tribes. The farmers are moving to uninhabited areas and the Maasai or other nomadic tribes have always grazed their animals in these lands. Maasai need uncultivated land to graze livestock and this is what causes conflict.

One of the Maasai, Moses, who is grazing the animals, confirms that the relationship between the tribes and the farmers is not friendly: “We keep the cattle near the farmers. If a cow enters a farmer’s land, he can sue me. Every day we face a struggle. There are no more free areas to graze, we are forced to graze next to the farmlands, so there are conflicts every time. We have to fight with farmers, we have to fight for our rights, our land rights. We need to ensure at least small areas for grazing livestock.”

Nomadic animal husbandry is the backbone of the Maasai economy, a major part of their culture. The Maasai tribes are slaughtering the animals to get food, milking them to get milk, and selling them to buy other goods they need.

Nangenoi Lekilel family

We visited another Maasai tribe the next day. We were hosted by Nangenoi Lekilel and his children. His family includes sons, daughters and several wives. Man can’t even remember how many grandchildren he has. There are herds of cattle grazing around, as well as several young ones. Everyone lives in small houses made of clay and manure. Each wife has her own hut that she had to build herself. Mospa, one of the wives, showed me her house.

We entered her house by bending down. In the spotlight, I saw several beds and a fireplace in the middle of the house where food was being cooked. Mospa lives here with her three kids. Sometimes her husband comes to visit her. Mospa got married when she was 12 years old.




The Akie tribe is the most at risk of extinction

In addition to the Maasai tribes, other tribes rarely seen outside of Africa also live in Tanzania’s Kitet region. The Akie tribe has lived in Tanzania since the 19th century. The main source of livelihood is the hunting of wild animals and the collection of honey and fruits. Due to modernization, this tribe is finding it increasingly difficult to collect food in the forests. The Akie tribe is also called Dorobo. In the Maasai language it means – “poor without cattle”. Today, the Akie tribes are in danger of extinction. There are only 300-500 of them left in Tanzania.

The forests gone

One of the Akie women, Nakai Tureto, says their tribe has no woodland for hunting. They are picking berries or fruits. “In the past we could walk a few dozen kilometers into the woods to hunt and collect honey, now I can’t walk even 500 meters without reaching the village and farmers. I think our government has forgotten us, and now we have come to the point where we need to get out of this place. As a small and poor tribe, we do not have as much power as the Massai tribes, therefore the farmers take advantage of this and we cannot resist them,” says Nakai Tureto.

Life in the woods

Those who are hunting or collecting honey walk to the forests about 20 km away. “We are spending a few weeks, or a month living in the forest. Our people come back only when they’ve collected honey or hunted an elephant or buffalo. But now it is difficult to find vacant land. We are trying to adapt to these changes. An elder of Akie’s tribe says, “We’re starting to farm and raise various animals”.

Although there have been recent attempts to encourage the Akie tribe to change their lifestyles and become sedentary people from the nomadic hunter tribe, but only a few Akie people find this acceptable. In the areas formerly ruled by the Akie tribe, particularly strong farmers are now emerging, against whom Akie can’t win neither an armed nor a legal battle.


When the court ordered the farmers to leave the territories assigned to Maasai and the other tribes, the farmers haven’t left the Kitet region. Instead, they only withdrew from the occupied lands. On one side, they surrounded the territories of the Akie’s tribes, while on the other side, they surrounded Maasai lands, thus the conflict has not been resolved. For example, near the settlement of the Akie tribe, we saw large areas that belong to only one person. Farmers, who own large areas of land, have connections and influence both: in government and in the courts. It is almost impossible to fight them.

There are approximately 100 different tribes in Tanzania. The Maasai are one of the most famous tribes in Africa and the Akie is a little-known tribe that is the most in danger of extinction. Both of these tribes are fighting for the opportunity to preserve their traditional way of life and culture.

Is Tanzania’s government willing to help them? The laws or constitution of Tanzania do not protect the rights of individual tribes. It shouldn’t be that way. And it is difficult for poorly educated and unsupported indigenous communities to solve all the issues and challenges they face every day.



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