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!