AMBOSELI (Austin Schessl & Jenna Sencabaugh)
Karibuni! In order to complete our core course we have a variety of field components throughout the semester here in Kenya. Most recently, we travelled to the Amboseli region!
Interviews with Farmers (Austin)
On our first full day in the area we left our camp to interview farmers in the area. We had split up into five groups each with the assistance of a translator. Each group was tasked with interviewing three-four different farmers asking questions as to what they grew, their time in the area, struggles with land and water availability as well as conflicts with wildlife (many of these farms are extremely close to the national park). After completing our interviews we all gathered to discuss our findings. To our surprise nearly every farmer was growing tomatoes and several were growing bell peppers as well. The farmers also agreed that the three animal species that cause the greatest nuisance are elephants, elands, and monkeys. If a single elephant comes into a farmer’s field it is likely that they will lose the entire crop for that season. Many of the farms are not fenced because the farmers are leasing or crop sharing and are unwilling to invest such a large sum of money to protect land that they may not be farming the following year. However, with Amboseli National Park being unfenced and the elephant population increasing uncontrollably it is becoming even more of a nuisance for farmers in the region.
Cultural Maasai Manyatta (Austin)
Later that afternoon, we were able to visit a Cultural Maasai Manyatta in order to see the way that the Maasai once lived. These manyattas consisted of several small cow dung houses arranged in a circle around their pen for cattle. In order to ensure the safety of the manyatta the entire compound was surrounded by a fence made from acacia branches. The acacia tree is one of the most abundant in Eastern Africa with multiple species, but all having severely sharp thorns covering every branch. Here we were able to learn more about the Maasai culture and daily activities. It is the men’s job to protect the homestead and herd the cattle while women are in charge of the cooking, gathering of firewood and water, as well as repairing the houses as it is the woman in the Maasai culture who actually owns the house. We also met with the manyatta’s medicine man and learned of the various barks, roots, and branches used by the Maasai to do everything from brush teeth to treat a heart attack. According to the individuals at the Cultural Manyatta much of the Maasai community still lives the traditional lifestyle such as this.
Nature Safari in Amboseli National Park (Austin)
The following day the 14 of us piled into two safari land rovers and drove to Amboseli National Park, which was just down the road from our camp. We spent several hours in the park that morning and were given the opportunity to go on another nature safari that afternoon if we chose to. While on the safaris we saw small herds of cape buffalo, hyenas, wildebeests, hippos, warthogs, herds of Grant’s gazelle and Thomson’s gazelle, a small pride of lions which had four cubs, ostriches, crested cranes as well as various other bird species, and multiple herds of elephants many of which had young calves and some herds that may have numbered near 100.
Prior to entering the park we had also spotted several small herds of giraffes and zebra, but we quickly came to realize that these species struggle to survive within the park due to the elephant populations. Amboseli National Park having around 151 square miles can sustain 400 elephants, but currently due to Kenya’s no culling policy, is now home to over 1,600 elephants. This causes a very clear destruction within the park to the trees and shrubs that these two species as well as others depend on. It also gave us a better understanding of the struggles with wildlife that the farmers had been expressing the day before. Regardless of this fact the nature safaris were the highlights for many of us during our Amboseli field component.
Homestay with Maasai families (Jenna)
At the end of the week and our time in Amboseli, we all spent a night with Maasai families in different manyattas. We traveled in pairs with a translator ready to learn more about the Maasai culture. After our experience at the cultural manyatta we were eager to experience life in with a Maasai family outside of a tourist setting. We were surprised to find many differences between the cultural manyatta and our homestays. We felt that the cultural manyatta did not fully show the development and current lifestyle of the Maasai. I was grateful along with the other members of the group to experience a day with a typical Maasai family. Along with the other females in the group, I participated in the women’s activities with my host mother. We fetched firewood and water, milked cows and goats, and prepared meals. We slept in cowhide beds in dung houses along with the family and some animals. We were also given beads to make bracelets with our host mothers. We all felt very welcome into their homes and had positive experiences.
With the help of the translator, we were able to learn from our host family and they were grateful to be able to learn from us as well. The homestay allowed us to experience their culture through conversations, participating in activities, and observations. Overall, we learned that they still follow some traditions of the Maasai but are developing in other ways. They are still pastoralists but are also using some agricultural practices due to the lack of ability to sustain a strictly pastoralist way of life. The traditional gender roles are still in place where women collect firewood, fetch water, and prepare meals while the men herd the cattle. Overall, the homestay was a positive learning experience that gave us a better idea of what life is like for the Maasai in Amboseli.
Interviews with Maasai Community Groups (Jenna)
Lastly, we got the opportunity to speak with different types of Maasai community members in groups. We met with groups of traditional women, educated women, pastoralist men, and elder male leaders. We asked them questions regarding tourism, farming, irrigation, group ranches, and modernization but also questions on their specific lives and experiences. The community members discussed ways that the culture has changed over time and their opinions on these changes. For example, they discussed women having more educational opportunities, the effect of climate change on farming practices, and how the presence of tourists is influencing their culture. These interviews were a great way to tie up everything we had done throughout the week and we were able to ask all of our remaining questions. After the interviews, we used the information we collected from the week to give presentations and discuss as a group some of the issues facing the Maasai. These discussions allowed us to reflect on the week and everything we experienced before moving on to the next component.
After a great week in Amboseli we went straight to our next destination. Check out our next post on our week in Mombasa!
“Have you gone on safari yet?” I can’t even count how many times this question has come up in conversations with my family and friends back home. In Swahili, ‘safari’ means journey, so indeed, this semester has been one big safari. KSP has taken us on journeys to rural Nyeri, beautiful Lake Naivasha, through the rift valley of Tanzania and across the busy city of Nairobi. However, our trip to Amboseli National Park in mid-March allowed us to experience a true tourist safari – in the Western sense of the word, complete with wildlife and traditional Maasai. Amboseli National Park is a relatively small piece of land, 151.4 square miles, located on the Kenya-Tanzania border, just north of Kilimanjaro. The park attracts tourists from around the world, to get the perfect shot of wildlife with a backdrop of the regal Mt. Kilimanjaro, as well as experience traditional Maasai culture in the surrounding area.
Our game drive through the park began just after sunrise. The sixteen of us filed into three Land Cruisers and entered the park, alongside tourists carrying cameras larger than a small child. We drove around the park for several hours. To put in perspective just how touristy we were, I ended the day with almost 400 new photos on my camera. On our relatively short one day game drive, we saw cheetahs, buffalo, zebras, impala, ostrich, hippos, hyenas, wildebeests, and herds of elephants. The park is also home to over 600 species of birds. Though parks attract tourists from all over the world to see the wildlife, there is also prominent human-wildlife conflict surrounding these protected areas. In Amboseli, we had the chance to speak with local farmers, who described how elephants, eland, and other species cross park boundaries looking for food. An elephant can destroy an entire farm, and the livelihood of the farmer, overnight. People are not allowed to kill elephants if they are on their land, so to protect their crops, farmers use flashlights to scare away wildlife, sometimes sitting out all night to watch over their land. A few farmers who could afford it had also built electric fences. It was incredible to be able to experience Kenya’s wildlife firsthand, but we also got the opportunity to learn about the complex human-wildlife conflict that spurs from this demand for tourism.
We continued to explore the tourism industry of Kenya by visiting a Maasai cultural Manyatta. The Maasai are a well-known pastoralist tribe, that are often posted as the face of East Africa for tourism purposes. Tourists that are drawn to the parks for wildlife often visit cultural Manyattas as well, hoping to experience different cultures. A traditional Maasai homestead is called a Manyatta. It consists of a series of Bomas – dung huts with grass roofs – situated in a circle. The animals are kept in the center of the circle, for their protection as livestock are a Maasai’s livelihood. A cultural Manyatta is designed specifically for tourism purposes. The Maasai welcomed us with a dance then showed us traditional medicinal practices, gave us a tour of their Bomas, and marketed their beadwork to us. We also had the opportunity to interview the Maasai about the cultural Manyatta. The men manage all income from tourism while the women have autonomy over the income from selling their beads. The cultural Manyatta was especially interesting knowing it was created for the purpose of tourism. We were very aware of the performance that the Maasai were showing us in contrast to contemporary Maasai culture. Later in the week, we were able to experience a more authentic Maasai lifestyle on our homestays.
At the Maasai homestay, we had the opportunity to learn from the Maasai by participating in multiple activities including cutting and collecting firewood, carrying water, milking goats, cooking meals, patching bomas, and beading bracelets. Since we had visited a cultural Manyatta before the homestay, we were able to compare the two experiences directly. The homestay was a much more authentic experience and allowed us to fully understand the ways in which Maasai culture is evolving.
After making observations and having casual conversations with everyone we interacted with during these experiences, we had the opportunity to conduct interviews with various groups of Maasai. We interviewed traditional pastoralist men, community leaders (whom were all men), traditional women, and educated women. From each group, we got an idea of their thoughts on tourism and development, and how it is impacting their lifestyles.
When discussing tourism, we focused mainly on the cultural Manyattas. After talking with the pastoralist men, we learned that the cultural Manyatta is not necessarily an accurate representation of their culture. There are multiple differences between a Manyatta and a traditional Maasai homestead. For one, there are no permanent houses in a cultural Manyatta. Male members of the community move back and forth between the Manyatta and permanent homes in other parts of the region. In the Manyatta, the Bomas are very squeezed together, with no space in between so there is very limited room to put livestock. Men also have to play specific roles at the Manyatta purely for tourism purposes. A committee determines the roles each man must play each day during tours. The men have to be dressed in all traditional wear (even though western clothing is becoming much more popular among the Maasai) and abide by what the committee assigns them to. All the men in the group expressed their disdain about this. However, each individual also agreed that the Manyattas were beneficial because of the income generated from tourism. The educated women also supported the cultural Manyatta because it provides revenue for the women that sell crafts. The money these women make from their crafts is their property. This allows the women to be more independent, especially because they do not receive any money from tourist fees and have no say in how it is used. Unlike the pastoralist men, the pastoralist women emphasized that the Manyatta was beneficial because it allowed them to preserve aspects of their culture.
We also had the opportunity to discuss development and the role that education plays in changing culture. The consensus among the groups was that the culture may be changing but education is valuable because of the benefits it brings to the community. The role of educated people is to enlighten the community on what is changing and to advise the community on how to better maintain their land. The traditional pastoralists were particularly adamant that no matter how much their culture changes, they would still retain important aspects such as the Shuka, the importance of cattle, and some of their inherent values.
We also spoke about group ranches as well as irrigation methods. Community ranches provide benefits for pastoralists because they are effective at curbing land loss in Maasai communities. There is also a community fund provided by the ranch that goes towards school fees. However, some members of the Maasai community wish to subdivide the land because group ranches restrict autonomy over the land. Lastly, on the topic of irrigation, there was controversy over the pros and cons of irrigation. Benefits of irrigation include increased crop yields, the ability to alter the environment depending on wet and dry seasons. The traditional women only saw the benefits in irrigation. However, there were also many downsides including water shortage, soil depletion, and negative impacts downstream due to pesticide contamination.
These interviews allowed us to culminate all our experiences throughout the week and gave us a holistic understanding of the issues as well as potential solutions in the Amboseli region. It was a great week!
-Maeghan, Maya, and Molly
For our last grand adventure/field component as a group, the ten of us hopped into safari vehicles to go to Amboseli, a national park about four hours south of Nairobi. The park was established in 1974 and covers 151.4 mi2 of traditionally Maasai land. As students going to an area largely economically supported by tourism, we experienced a variety of situations in which we adapted to, questioned, and debated our understanding of our experiences. Throughout the week, we had discussions and interviews with farmers and community members, we went on two game drives through the national park (lions and tigers and… ostriches[?] oh my!), visited a “cultural manyatta”, and did a 24 hour homestay with a Maasai family. Our experience was interspersed with hotel pool swims, tire shoe shopping, and DOOM!-ing all of our belongings. No adventure is complete without a little DOOM! Insecticide©, right?
As land availability has decreased, due to the breakup of group ranches and larger populations, Maasai have less land to graze their livestock on and many have turned to a mix of pastoralism and agriculture. We had an opportunity to learn about the challenges of agriculturists living in the area first hand. Most of the farmers we interviewed did not actually own the land, but were crop sharers. This means that the landowner leased out his land, many times to a middleman who paid for the lease, seeds, and pesticides and allowed the farmers to work the land in exchange for a certain percentage of the profit. The area we were in used generators to pump water from the small river to their crops, and never ran out of water because of their positioning so far upstream. The main challenge that farmers faced was ELEPHANTS. Being so close to Amboseli, the adorable elephants regularly go out of the National Park at night and feast on the delicious vegetables that the farmers had been so meticulously taking care of. If elephants do come, the farmers must resort to making loud noises, shining flashlights, and lighting firecrackers to scare away the elephants. Since there is no compensation program, these farmers can lose their entire income for the growing season (3-4 months). The most effective way of keeping the elephants out is by electric fence. The farmers discussed that the government should provide fencing for either the park or the farms because of the problems the government park has caused for them.
After a morning of interviewing farmers, we made our way down the road to visit a “Cultural Manyatta”. Cultural Manyattas are a site that the Maasai in the area have created to earn an income off of the tourist industry that is rampant in the region. These manyattas are a traditional homestead, consistent of approximately 15 cow-dung homes, and a boma to house cattle. The manyattas are set up in a circle with the homes around the outside, with the boma in the center. There are multiple reasons for this, two of them being protection from lions, and for health reasons because of how wet the center of the manyatta gets during the wet season. Who knew a barrier of acacia branches and dung homes would hold off the “king of the jungle”?
The Maasai in the manyattas create an experience for the tourist to learn about their culture and way of life, greeting you with a welcome dance and jumping competition, and then seeing you off with a market of their beaded goods. When we pulled in, the group of Maasai men and women welcomed us to dance with them, and challenged the boys to take part in their jumping competition. Our new Maasai friends joked about the boys’ lack of jumping ability- guess we’ve got something to work on, eh boys?!
After welcoming us to their manyatta and praying, we were brought into the homestead and taught about some of the natural medical remedies they have for everything from Malaria, to digestive issues, to low libido. After our medical lesson, we toured the homes, and had group interviews with the manyatta site members. On our way out, many of us bought beadwork from the women that we danced with in the beginning of the visit. Beading is something that only women do, and allows them to have a means of income to help support their households, and give them more economic autonomy.
While in Amboseli we had the chance to experience how most tourist’s live in Kenya. We stayed at the Kibo Safari Lodge and slept in “luxury tents” that were mostly filled with tourists from Europe and North America. When the safari’ers weren’t out enjoying Amboseli National Park, they were taking refuge from the hot sun and swapping stories about their quests to see The Big Five (Lion, Elephant, Buffalo, Leopard, and Rhino) which were the most sought after animals by recreational hunters, but has now transitioned into a fun sightseeing challenge.
On our second day in Amboseli we excitedly woke up with the sunrise, grabbed a quick breakfast and eagerly loaded into our two Safari style Toyota Land Cruisers and were on our way. Before we entered the park we were greeted by several grant’s gazelle and twigas, also known as giraffe, and many local Maasai selling souvenirs such as necklaces and animal carvings at the entrance. We spent the morning and afternoon in awe looking at countless numbers of elephants buffalo, wildebeest, waterbuck, reedbuck, baboons, ostriches, warthogs, giraffes, zebra, thomson’s gazelle, grant’s gazelle, hippos, flamingos, and birds that were completely foreign to us. We even saw several hyenas and a lion! It was picturesque seeing all of these animals in their expansive landscape with the snow-capped Mount Kilimanjaro in the background.
Our travels to Amboseli happened to be in the dry season, so there was not much vegetation in relation to the herds of animals, with a few exceptions of swampier areas where the Kilimanjaro snow melt collects. Much of the landscape was bare soil, and in some areas there was hardly more than a few trees or shrubs in eye sight. We learned that this is due to the large number of animals that the environment cannot sustain. The National Park can sustainably hold a population of 400 elephants, but the population has skyrocketed in recent decades to over 1600 (they are forced to raid the farmers’ fields so that they have enough food). An adult elephant can knock down five trees a day, which has converted the environment into a grassland. As a result, the grazers populations have increased and they have overgrazed the environment. All of this has led to a strain on the environment and topsoil erosion that causes the dust devils that vortex around the park.
Then the day came, and we went off roading to bush, eagerly seeking out our new families. We went to this homestay in groups of two and each group was given a translator since families mainly speak their ethnic language of Maa. We were dropped off at the entrance of the manyatta and were immediately welcomed by our Maasai homestay mother with a cup of chai and later to our homestay father.
Many rural Maasai practice polygamy as they have historically done and my homestay father had two wives. The wives each had their own house for themselves and their children in the manyatta and the father takes turns sleeping in between the two houses. Each of our homestay mothers cooked separately for themselves and their children and both worked together to complete tasks to keep the manyatta running.
At our homestay we were able to experience a day in the life of a traditional Maasai and help them with daily tasks. The Maasai have rigidly gender segregated duties, so the girls helped collecting water from a natural spring in the ground, gather firewood, cook, and clean. The boys spent most of their time herding cattle and finding new pastures. In the end we all were instructed on how to make the distinctive Maasai bracelets and necklaces and a couple lucky people even got to help reinforce a house by spreading the cow dung and ash mixture onto the house walls.
We finished out the week with interviews of community members. Groups of community leaders, educated women, traditional women, agriculturalists, and pastoralists answered our various questions about everything from irrigation techniques to thoughts about FGM.
Here are some of the most interesting things we learned from the groups:
- When asked about modernization, the group of pastoral men said that they would ideally be 50% pastoralist and 50% agriculturalist. They are not bitter or put out by the change in their traditional ways of livelihood, but rather are adjusting and finding new ways to live and be happy.
- The strong relationship between the Maasai and their cattle was/is amazing. No matter how “modern” the group becomes, everyone will always still have at least one cow. “We are not Maasai without our cows”
- Pastoralists who are also agriculturalist frequently hire out people to graze their cattle. Children now go to school at minimum through primary level, keeping them in the classroom rather than out with the livestock, leaving a gap in the labor force that must be compensated by changing work for the adults, or hiring out to graze livestock.
- When one sees images of the Maasai people, they frequently see an image of a bare breasted woman covered in beads. In reality, historically and modernly, women are always covered, and do not bare their breasts. This image was created by the western world, and is not actually representative of the Maasai people.
- The maasai shukas (blankets) were actually brought by the Scottish missionaries in the late 1800s.
- Another identifier of the Maasai is the circular or lined scars on their cheeks. This is a burn scar that was used as a technique to keep flies out of their eyes which could otherwise spread a disease that could blind them. The circular scars we have seen here in Kenya identify a Maasai as a Kenyan Maasai. If a Maasai has three vertical lines instead, he/she can be identified as Tanzanian.
-Laura and Aidan
Jambo! Ellory, Julia H, Meg and Sophie here! Following our trip to Kisumu, the KSP squad ventured in safari vehicles south to Amboseli National Park. Interacting with another Kenyan culture, the Maasai, we were again able to broaden our understanding of the diversity within Kenya. Guided by our Fearless Leader, Sinnary, we embarked on a weeklong exploration of issues surrounding Tourism, Maasai culture, and the environment.
This trip included tourist activities such as the accommodations at Kibo Safari Camp, the game drive in Amboseli National Park and the cultural manyatta visit. Unlike most of our other trips the Amboseli component felt more like a vacation than a field trip. While it was nice to feel like a tourist for a week our group did not fail to look critically at issues within the Amboseli region. Through interviews with various local communities we were able to get a better understanding of tourism and its affects on the region. Our week at Amboseli allowed us all to feel some negative and positive aspects of the tourism industry.
When we first arrived at Kibo Safari Camp we were blown away by the luxurious accommodations at the “camp”. We had been told we would be camping in tents for a week and expected a trip similar to Tanzania. What we found was a beautiful resort situated at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro complete with a pool, bar, dining room, and luxury canvas-walled villas. If there ever was a time the word “glamping” was appropriate, this was it.
The design and decorations of the resort screamed “tourist”. The walls were covered with Maasai artifacts and African paintings of tribal women and animals. There were hides and skins as carpets and gravel paths disguised as trails to connect the rooms. The “tents” had bathrooms, showers, electricity, beds with mosquito net canopies and a built in vanities. The resort was beautiful but also clearly trying to portray a “rustic” experience while sparing no modern amenity.
During our stay in Amboseli, we were lucky enough to go on a game drive in the National Park. As we all packed into the safari vehicles at 7am the KSP crew was excited and overwhelmed with pure joy to finally see wildlife. You could say there is a fair amount of “elephant enthusiasts” in the group and each one almost passed out when we saw the first heard of the majestic creatures. Rolling through the roads of the park, passing other tourists in safari vehicles with giant zoom cameras, we had become the epitome of the African tourist. As it was amazing to see: hippos, elephants, lions (very rare sight, but we saw three), a cheetah, wildebeest, zebras, hyenas, impalas, water buffalo, water bucks, baboons, and many exotic birds, it was a little disheartening to be invasive in the daily life of the wildlife. To us these animals are in their natural state, however it’s critical to acknowledge the fact that these animals are dangerous and destructive to the surrounding communities. Being students it was very easy to analyze this concept, but unfortunately to the common tourist this part of the safari is left out and the appeal of seeing wildlife is the main focus. After completing the two game drives, everyone was on such a high from the beautiful landscapes and views of wildlife, but at the end of the day it was difficult to accept that the tourism in the Amboseli region can negatively affect the wildlife and local communities.
Looking at tourism on a community based level, attractions such as the cultural manyatta appealed to just the tourist groups coming to learn about the traditional Maasai culture. These manyattas are made up of individuals who have left their family compounds in search of additional income through providing tourists with an “authentic” experience. When we first arrived we were greeted with a traditional dance and song, which included a jumping contest for the men. As we continued on into the manyatta we were surrounded with men and women dressed in traditional Maasai attire and enclosed in a ring of houses made of cow dung. Following our arrival, we were briefed on the traditional medicine used for sickness and ailments. Later we were brought into a house that included two rooms and a small kitchen area. Wrapping up the experience we were given the opportunity to interview young women and men, as well as elder women and men, about their life in the manyatta. Due to the language barrier and their perception of us as tourists, the answers given seemed to present an idolized representation of their life in the cultural manyatta. The cultural manyatta presented Maasai culture in its “traditional” form, while ignoring any steps towards development or modernity. From our view as informed students, it was hard to see the Maasai culture being exploited like this for tourist entertainment and money. Despite the obvious misrepresentation, the cultural manyatta provided an opportunity to see a tourist attraction in action.
Back at Kibo in our interviews with community members, we were able to gauge their opinions in the Amboseli region. Surprisingly, their responses were overwhelmingly positive. Every group cited that the income generated from tourist attractions such as the cultural manyatta, contributed to the communities well being. All groups that we spoke to saw cultural attractions as a way of preserving traditional dances and lifestyles and did not view them as a corruption of culture as we had expected. Additionally, it was surprising to hear that establishments such as Kibo Safari Camp provided the Maasai community with jobs and land compensation. Talking with these community members gave us a fresh perspective on tourism and a new way of conceptualizing the possible benefits to the community.
To further our understanding of the Maasai people in a changing world, we had the opportunity to spend twenty-four hours in the home of a Maasai family. The traditional manyatta was a drastic contrast to the cultural manyatta and the “tourist” activities that we had been doing. We had been briefed two weeks prior to our stay, causing a lot of anxiety among the group members due to hearing about the potential hardships we would face. We were imagining being covered in bed bugs, fleas, and lice, sleeping in a small, enclosed space with livestock on a cowhide with our Maasai siblings. However, I was pleasantly surprised by the experience and from the sounds of everyone’s individual homestays, this feeling seemed to be universal.
Lilly, Annie, and I were together with the second wife of our family’s manyatta. She was 28 and her five kids were running around all afternoon with the other kids of the manyatta. When we first arrived, we walked through the cow pen, made with acacia tree branches to keep the animals in and predators out. We entered the house and walked through a small front room into the back room where we found a single, cowhide bed. After settling in, we walked around the neighbor’s farms and watched one farmer irrigate his fields. The sun was hot and the cow dung house was a sauna on the inside so we helped our mom fetch water from a well near by. It was about a seven-minute walk to a very nice and established water pump. We filled our containers and carried them home on our backs with a kanga wrapped around our heads for support. Our mom made it look very easy!
When we got home, we played with the kids for what seemed to be hours. At first they were very interested in us, but were extremely shy. Little by little we pushed through those boundaries by chasing them around and playing games with them. We showed them how to play hopscotch and hand games we had learned in elementary school. They loved high five’s and I spun them around making sure to add the appropriate “whooshing” sound affects. Everyone was laughing and smiling from ear to ear. They sang us an English alphabet song with a dance to accompany it. It is amazing how communication can manifest itself in so many ways.
That evening, we met our father and watched our mom milk the cows. I tried but it was a lot harder than it looks. I completely missed the container! After milking the cows, we started to make dinner. We took turns cutting the cabbage and watched her make ugali. Kids were in and out all night long but at dinner we finally met all five of our siblings. After dinner, everyone headed to bed. The three of us played cards on our bed before trying to sleep. We did not quite fit in the bed, but we tried. Though we did not sleep a wink, the night was an experience in itself. The next morning we walked away with no bugs, no sleep, and some great selfies!
We woke up and did some of the same activities as the day before such as fetching water and milking the cows. We ate some porridge, drank tea, and spent the morning sitting under a tree beading with our mom. It was nice to know we had a shower to go back to and a meal without ugali. However, it was an invaluable experience that allowed us a realistic view of how the Maasai live today.
For a little background on the Maasai, they are an ethnic group of roughly 1.6 million people, split between Tanzania and Kenya. Historically, they are solely pastoralist. However, due to loss of land and a globalizing world, many Maasai have recently begun to engage in agriculture. Under colonial rule, they were pushed south giving way for the white settlers who took the best land. Since then, large plots of their land have been conserved for national parks and reserves or sold to other ethnic groups. With little land, the pastoralist lifestyle is extremely difficult. Thus, the shift resulted in a change in their way of life. Historically, they practice polygamy and both male and female circumcision. With the shift of their lifestyles, their cultural practices have also begun to change exemplified by their shift away from female circumcision. Additionally, due to the missionary’s stereotype of the Maasai as intimidating warriors coupled with their nomadic lifestyle, development struggle to reach Maasailand until recent years.
In addition to focusing on and discussing themes such as tourism and culture, we examined the role of our surrounding environment in the context of conservation efforts, local land usage, and relationship between the land and surrounding communities that interact with it on a daily basis. There is no denying that the most exciting component of this focus for many of us was the game drive within Amboseli National Park on the second day, where we encountered the Big 5 and other characters from the Lion King. The 22 of us were divided into four safari vehicles, all of which encountered lion, hippo, elephant, wildebeest, zebra, baboons, impala, gazelle, and various birds. Some of us were even lucky enough to have ‘spotted’ the elusive cheetah (lol get it?) and other rare animals such as an albino wildebeest that even our safari guides had never seen in their extensive careers working within the park.
After our exciting day living the stereotypical life of most tourists that visit East Africa, we hunkered down and talked specifics about the park regarding its role in conservation efforts and within the larger community. Amboseli National Park was initially established as a game reserve under British Colonialism in 1948, later becoming an official national park in 1974 under Kenya’s independent government. The park now stretches across a vast area of about 150 square miles and is one of the nation’s most popular tourist attractions, due in part by its close proximity to the impressive Mt. Kilimanjaro and the near-guarantee of seeing elephants in almost every corner of the park.
While exciting to tourists, such as ourselves, the overwhelming population of elephants (around 1200 in total) within the park exceeds almost three times its carrying capacity, becoming an increasing cause for environmental concern. Considering the sheer immensity of elephants and their strictly herbivorous diets, they become a threat to other animals within the already semi-arid ecosystem by depleting vegetation and therefore resources essential to the survival of many neighboring animals with the same eating habits.
Throughout the rest of the trip we continued our discussion regarding the role of environment by interviewing local community members that have an extensive history of living in the area. We had conversations with local farmers and members of group ranches, asking questions regarding their experiences living so close to the park and the environmental changes they have observed throughout their time in the area. Most farmers did not share the same enthusiasm we had for the inhabitation of many neighboring animals in the area due to the threat they pose to land cultivation. Although the perimeter of Amboseli National Park is lined with electrical fencing to protect humans and animals from each other, elephants are still more than capable of plowing through this protective measure, and crossing the fences with the help of both opposable thumbs and big toes by way of climbing and jumping through trees is child’s play to the agile baboons of the national park. Many of the farmers we spoke to consistently expressed concern and frustration regarding the destruction of cultivation because of the lack of viable solutions to combat the park-dwelling animals storming through their property or eating their crops. When asked what existing solutions they had to the issue they faced on a regular basis, some said they are able to receive help from local game wardens in and around the national park, while others rely on innovative scare tactics such as slingshotting or throwing rocks and torches at the encroaching animals.
Accessibility to water is another environmental concern that many local farmers and pastoralists regularly struggle with, especially during the dry season. Most farmers live upstream along the local river and use unsustainable methods of flood irrigation to water their crops while most pastoralists live downstream and experience insufficient access to water because of the wasteful farming practices upstream. In addition, many in the area are beginning to notice the river becoming increasingly dry because of implemented irrigation systems and the competition for water between the neighboring groups, subsequently causing conflicts between the two.
As much as we enjoyed our time within the scenic and surreal landscape of the Amboseli, it is important to recognize the interactions between the local communities and their surrounding environments, and the ways in which these issues can disrupt the social fabric and livelihoods of the people within the area.
Amboseli – Eliza and Thressa
Sopa! (Maasai for “Hello”)
A few weeks ago our small group had the pleasure of traveling to the Amboseli region, located in South-western Kenya. This area is comprised of Amboseli National Park as well as home to the Maasai people. This trip follows the ideals of the Kenya Semester Program, allowing us to learn through experience and interactions. We were lucky enough to be able to experience Amboseli from both a tourist as well as a local view.
On the first day, we woke up in our beautiful “tents” at Kibo Safari Camp and emerged to see an incredible view of Mt. Kilimanjaro. Kibo Safari Camp is located next to Amboseli Park so we were lucky enough to be awoken by monkeys and other exotic creatures most mornings.
After an amazing breakfast, we proceeded to go into the field, accompanied by our wonderful guides, Big Jackson and Little Jackson, to interview the local farming community. This community deals with issues regarding land, water, and wildlife conflict. While it took a few minutes to break the barrier, we were able to discuss these issues in depth throughout our conversations with land owners, lease farmers, and farm help. They expressed concern with a growing lack of water and lack of government aid to combat the issues concerning the impeding wildlife. They expressed the need for a fence to be used to keep wildlife inside the boundaries of Amboseli park, of which their farms are located next to. The government fears though that this will stop the necessary migration patterns of wildlife, and as a result, would hurt the tourism industry of Kenya.
In the afternoon we were able to visit a Cultural Manyatta, a popular tourist destination. These Manyattas have formed to capitalize on the continuous western interest and stereotypes of Maasai Warrior Culture and the image of “Wild Africa.” During this visit, we were introduced to the “medicine man”, taught to make fire using sticks, and were shown traditional Maasai homes. We were able to interview three different groups: Elders, women, and Warriors, to discuss some of the issues facing Maasai culture in terms of tourism.
Later in the week we were able to contrast this experience to a homestay with a Maasai family. Away from the bustle of tourism, Maasai families continue to preserve the important traditions of their culture while also being able to adjust to the changing world around. Here, we did not witness the traditional “drinking blood” but instead feasted on ugali and cabbage, a meal that reappears throughout Kenya despite ethnic and cultural differences. We slept on the customary cowhides and learned valued Maasai skills such as: collecting water and wood, feeding animals, and repairing Maasai homes with the use of cow dung. We also had the chance to interview our families on issues that they face. Many of the issues that appeared related to the international push to eradicate Female Genital Mutilation, an accepted practice among the Maasai.
Another highlight of the trip was the opportunity to experience Amboseli National Park through two different game drives. Here, we saw incredible animals including: Zebras, Ostriches, Hyenas, Lions, Wildebeest, Elephants, Cheetahs, Buffalo, Hippos, and other exotic animals. This proved to be our most “touristy” experience as we saw lines of Land Rovers filled with other visitors.
Overall it was an exciting and fast-paced week. Being the last trip of the semester before our Independent Study component (IDS), it was perhaps the most touristy and enjoyable. We made great friends at Kibo Safari Camp and during out overnights with Maasai families. As always, we are learning so much from our experiences with others – a type of learning that we may never find in a classroom. These experiences gave us joy and prepared us well for our Independent Study component where we will be fully immersed in another geographic and cultural area on our own.
Hujambo rafiki wangu! Ninaitwa MacKenzie Juda na mimi na Meera na Darcy na Simon tungependa kusema kuhusu safari yetu katika Amboseli!
We had just arrived back from our three-week long urban homestays the day before we left for our field component in Amboseli. Slightly exhausted from our choice of activities upon reuniting on the compound the previous night, we packed up the vehicles (three safari land rovers) and headed off for yet another week away from “home.” I was excited: we were told that after spending two months trying to prove that we did not come to Kenya for purposes of tourism, we would finally have the opportunity to be tourists. I can’t say any of us have ever thought it would be cool to be tourists in Kenya, but I, for one, took this to heart (see outfit in picture below).
After about four to five hours of watching the scenery go by and listening to my iPod (if you need expert advice, I highly recommend The Lizzie McGuire Movie Soundtrack for ANY road trip or long car ride that you take), we finally made it to Kibo Safari Camp! The first order of business was to find someone to share a tent with for the week and move in. These tents were unlike any tent I have ever stayed in in my entire life: firstly, they had floors. Secondly, they had beds. Thirdly, they had electricity (for certain hours of the day). Fourthly, they had indoor plumbing. Compared to our stay in Tanzania, we were living in luxury.
Normally I’m sure many of us would have stayed in our tents for a bit longer to relax and gush about how awesome they were or maybe even jump on the beds, but we were all on a mission: we were headed to the pool. To everyone’s heartbreak, however, the pool was closed for the night. To cope with such sadness, a couple of us ventured off to the bar where we met a man named Maurice who would become our friend for the week (DISCLAIMER: I’m 21 so I can legally drink in any country… OTHER DISCLAIMER: SLU did not cover our bar tabs). Thus began the start of a weekly ritual; we would sit outside at our favorite table looking out over Mt. Kilimanjaro because I forgot to mention that WE WERE RIGHT THERE. Along with Maurice, Samuel and Gona were serving us at meals all week, and they were incredibly hospitable. I don’t always gush about the places I sleep, but when I do, I mean it: if you ever decide to go on a vacation to a safari camp in Kenya, you won’t regret Kibo.
After an evening of luxury, it was time to get to work: when we woke up in the morning, we got ready to head out and interview some farmers. When I saw this activity on the itinerary, I was anticipating going to some sort of conference center where there would be farmers who had signed up and designated time to be interviewed by us. However, what we experienced was even more amazing. All of the vehicles parked on the side of the road after about a half hour of driving, and we met about six men who were our designated translators for the activity. We then split into groups of three, were assigned a translator, and headed off in different directions where we would look for farms where people were working and ask one of the workers if they were willing to be interviewed. I was amazed at how welcoming people were when a group of strangers approached them to ask about any hardships they may face with water, wildlife, etc. No one my group asked refused an interview, and one of the men said he wished he could talk to us longer. After each interview, we would hand the farmer a bag of sugar and tea leaves as a token of our appreciation and head off to the next farm.
Upon completing the interviews, we headed back to the camp for a quick lunch and then headed right back out for a visit to a cultural Manyatta, where we would learn about the Maasai culture. Cultural Manyattas are catered to tourists, and Sinnary warned us before heading there that our Maasai homestays would differ greatly from these (I’ll let Simon elaborate on that later). We were greeted by Maasai women singing and dancing and then each would grab a student or two to join in the circle. The women draped beads over many of the females, but we were told upfront not to get too attached to these beads as they were not gifts and we would have to pay for them if we wanted to keep them. A man wearing a Shuka led us into the Manyatta and discussed many cultural aspects of the Maasai. What I remember him saying was that the Maasai feed on meat, milk, and blood (which made me incredibly nervous for the homestay) and that they rely on traditional medicine, showing us some of the plants that are used to heal stomachaches and pregnancy woes. After that, half of us went to sit with the men for a question and answer session while the other half did the same with the women. Of course, we had questionnaires already prepared for us as a guide to what questions we should ask. Before we left, the women rushed us into the market to sell us their beadwork. We came to learn later on in the week that selling beadwork is the only source of income for the women of cultural Manyattas; the admittance fees for visitors go directly to the men. Because of this, every woman was trying to drag us to her shop.
To finish off a busy day, we had another evening watching the sunset and Big Kili, and the popcorn kept coming.
Darcy hapa, na ninasema kuhusu safari yetu katika Amboseli National Park! Our third day in the Amboseli region was dedicated to yet another classically “touristy” adventure: game drives throughout the National Park!!! As a Conservation Biologist major with a thing for lions and other large mammals, African fauna is what first got me interested in this continent. Needless to say, I was pumped out of my MIND. Of course, taking Sinnary’s Conservation and Management in East Africa course this semester has opened my eyes to the pros and cons of national parks and all the crazy conservation methods involved in saving species, often for the sake of tourism, so it was really interesting to be a tourist in Amboseli while simultaneously learning the effects of tourism… I was still super pumped, though.
We woke up early to increase our chances of sick animal sightings and drove the 1 minute journey to Amboseli’s gates; not only is Kibo great in terms of glamping facilities, but it’s conveniently located, too! After providing gate security with our passports and student ID’s, the SLU KSP rolled on inside, half our bodies popping out the open roofs on our three safari jeeps, sunscreen on and cameras ready to see some wildlife. The first thing I noticed was the vastness of the land within the park—it was all green scrubby grass atop an expanse of flat dry dirt, interrupted occasionally by trees and bushes, Big Kili dominating the left side of our far sighted vision, and perfect clouds distributed throughout the crazy blue sky. And within that vastness, almost immediately we spotted zebras, some birds, and Thompsons gazelles. As we continued driving, more zebras in larger numbers and with babies were seen, as well as grand gazelles, wildebeests, ostriches, cape buffaloes, and giraffes. Because about 70% of Kenya’s wildlife exists outside of park boundaries, we had actually already seen some of these animals prior to entering the park—including a giraffe family with a baby which crossed the road in front of us the day before. Still, seeing so many different species coexisting in such a space was definitely a unique and awesome experience.
After driving for a bit, we spotted a large mass of grey in the distance. Upon further inspection, we realized that a massive herd of elephants was walking our way, and it was freaking incredible. Never in my life did I think I’d actually be able to observe wild elephants from such a close distance, and right in front of freakin’ Kilimajaro no less. They were huge and wrinkly and slow and quiet and we loved every second of it.
We continued seeing more of the same, while adding grey crowned cranes, impalas, warthogs, and hippos (that were quite far away) to our list. Before leaving for a lunch break, we drove out to a more tree-heavy area of the park in hopes of seeing lions, which tend to stay away from open savannah as they have little opportunity to hide from potential prey in such places. After driving the loop and scaring a ton of zebras in the road (some of which farted in surprise and my 5-year-old self thought that was hilarious), my jeep came back to find the other two cars excitedly looking at something far off in between two palm tree clusters. They found a lion!!!!!!!!! She was real far off and basically couldn’t be seen without bino’s but STILL. I got to check another one off of Darcy’s list of life goals, so I’m not complaining.
We headed back to camp for lunch and had the option of staying to relax a bit or going on game drive round 2, so I did the latter. We saw more of the animals seen in game drive round 1, PLUS about 6 hyenas right next to the road. Those guys were SO cool to see, because they’ve got such a unique body structure and there was even a baby hyena who was the cutest thing I’d seen all day. Nerd fact: their feces are white due to all the calcium they ingest from eating so many bones. That’s pretty neat.
At the end of the drive when I thought life couldn’t get any better, a massive rainbow appeared over the area where the lion was, and I was proved wrong once again by Kenya’s awesomeness.
We drove back to camp, had a drink by the pool, and celebrated Lindy’s birthday with a cake made by the ever hospitable camp staff since she’d be at the Maasai homestay for her actual 22nd. All in all, I guess it was a decent day.
Simon hapa tuliishi katika Masaai kwa siku moja. We stayed with the Masaai for a night. Each of our groups had a translator because we weren’t good enough at Swahili and the Masaai weren’t good enough at English for us to get through the night. The translators were all either from the family we were staying with or from a neighboring Manyatta, our translators name was Mary. We got there in the afternoon and of course the first thing that happened was they offered us chai, like any good Kenyan would. It was strange staying with them after being at the cultural Manyattas because, surprise surprise, the Masaai are pretty much just like any other Kenyans. Most of the family that I stayed with wore western clothes and only the older generation wore the traditional dress.
That day we didn’t have that much to do because it was so late in the day. We herded the goats a little but it wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be, they kind of knew where to go and didn’t really need us to help. As we were waiting for dinner Jeff started to make friends with the family’s children, there were about ten of them. He showed them his binoculars and they were amazed, they looked at Kilimanjaro and for people who saw the mountain every day it was the first time they had seen in so close. The children were amazed by the binoculars and looked at everything they could. Even our translator who was 20 was amazed by them. After that we started to play soccer with the children. We tried to make teams and play an actual game but soon enough it just turned into everyone trying to get the ball.
A little bit later the animals got back from grazing and it was time to milk them. I tried and wasn’t the best at it, Jeff was much better than I was. We talked to our host mother about the animals and she said that they weren’t producing as much milk as they had in the past. Part of the milk was given to a calf whose mother had died shortly after childbirth. It was given the milk from a bottle by our Masaai mother. We talked to Mary about this and she said the cow saw our Masaai mother as its mother and would even go into the house to find her, the cow was adorable. We ate dinner a little bit later and looked at the stars as we did; they were some of the most beautiful stars I have ever seen. After dinner we went to sleep on the bed. Except it wasn’t a normal bed, it was a traditional Masaai bed which is a platform made of sticks with some dry bean plants, with some cow hides on the top. It wasn’t the worst sleep I have ever had but it wasn’t a good sleep by any means.
Jeff and I were woken up around 4:30 in the morning by the sound of a rooster crowing, the rooster was under the bed along with all of the other chickens. It kept crowing about every twenty minutes. Eventually we were able to get back to sleep and we woke up around 8:00. We had a breakfast of chapatti, although it was more similar to a very thick crepe, or very thick, very greasy Kenyan pancakes. After breakfast we went with Mary to fetch water from a nearby well which the government had made. After filling the jugs with water we headed back to the Manyatta. After that we went out herding again but the animals were already too far away for us to reach them. We went back to the Manyatta and then we worked on beading with the mother and Mary. I made a bracelet and a ring and Jeff made a bracelet. After that we ate lunch which was ugali and cabbage. All of the meals we had there were regular Kenyan meals that wouldn’t have been out of place at our homestays in Nyeri. After lunch Mary showed us how to plant in the field that the family owned. This didn’t last long as the car that came to pick us up arrived shortly after we started to plant. The stay with the Masaai was a very interesting, and enjoyable experience and one unlike any other experience we have had.
Meera hapa sharing the rest of our time in Amboseli: After an incredible week with animals, some amazing Maasai men and women, and Kilimanjaro we finished off our week by interviewing different groups of people of Maasai people. We interviewed groups of: Community leaders where there was a Vice Chairman and a committee member, Elders where we got the opportunity to chat with two older men, traditional women where the influence of modernity was evident because they had cell phones, handbags and weave however traditional culture was evident also because they wore shukas (a.k.a. Maasai blankets) and lots of beautiful beading, and last but not least, we had a group of educated women who shared the differences within their culture now in comparison to the past.
The Community Leaders group talked about how things are being done in the community to ensure that the community is safe and people are living in harmony together. Some of the duties they carry out consist of ensuring that bride wealth is paid and making sure that people who owe people are paying them.
The group of elders talked about pastoralism and the role that it plays in their culture. They told us about the importance of cattle in their culture and also how why they stopped being nomadic. In order for them to survive the Maasai people used to move from one area to the other to ensure that their cattle have enough to eat! This is why Maasai people used to build semi-permanent houses since they did not live in them all their lives. The elders said with the introduction of modernity, education and Christianity their culture is bound to change however the things that will remain the same are: one the wearing of their traditional Shukas, if it is not the everyday dress it will be worn at ceremonies. Two the scaring of the face will never change because it is a mark of identification and the people of Maasai society will always have cattle weather it is five or twenty, they will always have cattle!
The traditional women shed light on the improvement of access to medical services. They said that nowadays more and more women are using the hospitals for childbirth compared to the traditional methods where they do a homebirth and have their co-wives help them or their friends in the community. We were curious to know why they are using hospitals and what we were told is that the government has insisted that they use the facilities by making it more accessible to the population and also made the services free of cost.
The educated women shared some of the changes that have come to their culture which include the change in food they eat, farming as a way to gain access to different crops for domestic use and helping with providing food for the cattle also, permanent houses which are now being made for iron sheets and wood, education and the change for men to have only one wife which came about with the influence of Christianity.
While staying and traveling around Kenya we have meet so many different people and learned about their culture. While the Maasai people have for long resisted change and modernity our trip to Amboseli has taught us that culture will not change but only evolve with the different influences.
Kwaheri wanafunzi, walimu, wazazi na marafiki!