Vegetables and wimps curry no favour in a traditional Masai village

Africa; Kenya; Masai Mara; Sanctuary Olonana; Maasai warriors jumping with guest family watching

ELDERLY Masai women scoff and pull faces when I ask if they grow vegetables in their village.

They are repelled by the very mention of them.

“They don’t eat vegetables because they think that would make their poo go green – like a baboon,” my guide and translator, Sadira, explains.

Food is always going to be an interesting topic amongst these African people whose traditional diet is cow’s milk curdled by blood. And meat.

They are so healthy, they all look like they could jump out of their skins.

While a taxi driver in Nairobi tells me that these days the Masai are more likely to cook with basil, garlic and olive oil, Sadira says his village lives on meat from goats and sheep and cows’ milk.

The traditional welcome drink for guests is the blood-curdled milk sweetened with honey.

He tells me to be prepared for this as we walk the narrow dirt path uphill towards his village.

I’m digesting the idea. Perhaps the honey will alleviate the taste?

Less than a minute later, the guide grins. Only joking.

Sadira’s village is Olonana on the banks of the Mara River in Kenya’s southwest.

It borders on the Masai Mara wildlife reserve.

Four families live here in traditional thatch-roofed mud huts with few touches of modernity.

Treated water is supplied by the nearby Santuary Olonana resort where we are staying and heavy plastic sheets are laid under the thatch to ensure water proofing.

We are greeted with dancing and singing by separate groups of men and women.

Then men give us a round of adumu, a dance which involves jumping, although not quite out of their skins.

This activity is a demonstration of agility as well as a sure-fire way to attract women.

The higher a man can jump, the more women he will attract. Or so Sadira reckons.

Around the village, the dense stick fence has four entrances, one for each family.

In the centre is a fenced circular yard where the domestic animals are kept safe at night.

Being so close to the wildlife, it is not unusual for hungry lions to see the Masai’s animals as an easy feed.

In times past the villagers killed the lion that stole a cow.

These days they are compensated by the government: two cows for each dead one and they don’t pursue the lion.

Not a bad deal, I say to Sadira.

“Not bad,” he says, “but we love our cows and we are sad to lose any of them.”

There are 1.6 million Masai grazing their animals across the savannahs of Kenya and Tanzania.

While in our Western culture, we consider it impolite to ask how much money we each have, a Masai’s fortune is counted in the number of cows he owns.

And it is rude to ask how many.

If he is wealthy, he may answer, not less than 50. Or he may not answer at all.

Wealth is accumulated in part through a coming of age ceremony where young men are circumcised in front of a large male audience.

The eye-watering occasion favours the brave who manage the process without so much as a flinch.

The guests to this ritual passing to manhood leave gifts of cows.

The more manly you are, the more gifts.

There is no need to ask how many wives a man has in this polygamous society.

He wears a beaded bracelet for each wife.

Most men in the village have just one bracelet.

Our friend is wearing two but tells me later he has only one wife.

“The more wives a man has, the more trouble,” Sadira smiles.

He needs also to provide a house for each.

At Sanctuary Olonana I continue the conversation with the assistant manager, Jackson, a Masai who says his father had six wives.

These days he says the children’s education takes priority and as this doesn’t come cheap, men are less likely to marry more than once.

While his fellow villagers dress in the traditional red cloak or shuka, Sadira, a handsome 32-year-old who speaks perfect English, adds colourful beaded neckwear and decorated belts.

Added to this he has a scar on his arm where, he says, a lion had a go at him.

He looks striking.

Once the Masai wore earrings that greatly expanded their earlobes.

This is more common today in Australia than amongst these people, although a front tooth removed from the lower jaw is still the mark of a true member of this nomadic tribe.

The shukas were dyed red to frighten lions.

Although it is now widely known that lions are colour blind, the bright cloaks remain.

Inside the mud huts are dark and warm; the ceilings low.

Walls roughly divide the interior into three spaces with a rudimentary chair in the entry area and a still smouldering fireplace for cooking and heating between two sleeping platforms.

The woman sleeps on one with her children.

When children reach seven they move out to live with their grandparents.

The man sleeps around the corner on the other platform.

While villages nearby have tin roofs, the Olonana village offers an insight into the Masai’s unique culture and traditional way of life.

While this may be for tourists, the people are authentic in the way they carry out their lives.

There are no televisions, no mobile phones, no vehicles and no plastic other than the containers used to collect water.

There are no bathrooms.

The banks of the Mara River are the laundry and clothes are washed there and dried on rocks in the sun alongside those of the villagers.

Abercrombie & Kent has 11-day private luxury and fully inclusive safaris to Kenya and Tanzania staying at Sanctuary Retreats.