in Tanzania

That evening I sat with my husband and our host Joseph after a tiring day in the town of Iringa. It is unlike any other place in Tanzania and much of our time was taken by the scenic beauty and happy locals. It was only our second day in Iringa and i knew nothing of its history or the people. In Joseph, our host’s living room, several posters of Bob Marley hung on the walls; the room was decorated with many musical instruments like the guitar, a type of drum called Ngoma and the Dufu. It was the liveliest room I’d ever been in. The conversation moved from the majestic lions of Africa to his lifestyle.

Trying out Ngomo

Stories, Music and Bob Marley at Joseph’s house in Iringa, Tanzania.

“Why is it that you don’t eat meat?”, i asked.

“Oh, that’s because I’m a Rastafarian”, he replied.

“What’s a Rastafarian?” I asked out of curiosity. I had heard of the Rasta life before but only vaguely.

“We connect very closely with nature”, came his coded reply. I waited for him to say more but he seemed to think that we modern humans who are used to materialistic living would find it difficult to fully understand it. I didn’t press the subject. I then remembered that he casually chatted with a Masaai (of the Maasai tribe of Kenya and Tanzania) in the afternoon like they were close friends. I had wanted to interact with the Maasai tribe in this trip to Tanzania but a misunderstanding with my guide in Arusha failed me from doing so. I hoped Joseph would educate me about the tribe which has flourished in the Kenya-Tanzania region for over 500 years, untouched by the evils of the modern society. “We share many customs with the Maasai. For instance, at the age of 7, all young boys in our village are circumcised every year between 1st of June and 1st of July. This month is that of celebration and togetherness. The whole village comes together and celebrates with music and food. The last two days are spent dancing non-stop to music, not even pausing to sleep.” Fascinating.

I asked him how he knew the Maasai from the bus stop. He explained to me that every so often, one or two people from the Maasai tribe in the Ruaha region would come to Iringa for supplies. I then asked how they earned money for the supplies if the tribe depended on cattle and farming for personal use; to which he replied that they usually used the age-old barter system for their needs. The tribe would give the townsmen cattle or farm produce in exchange for their essentials. The Maasai tribe have no use for modern technology like mobile phones and laptops, so they need no paper money. They don’t even send their children to school for formal education. Their only source of information is their village which is one large family. Their entire lives revolve around protection of cattle, merriment and healthy living.

Lions of the forest are the Maasai’s worst enemy. “Why?”, i asked, my curiosity peaked. The Maasai protect their cattle fiercely and the cattle are often the easiest prey for lions. It is quite common and socially accepted among the Maasai to kill lions, aided by their sharp weapons. In fact, Joseph continued, oftentimes when a Masa man wants to marry a woman, the woman’s father may demand for him to prove his potency by killing a lion. Only if he returns triumphant from the mighty battle with the lion will he be allowed to marry the woman. The village looks up to any man who is undefeated by the King of the Jungle.

Saving the last pieces in Serengeti

A lioness saving the last pieces of her kill for her kin in Ngorongoro crater.

He told me many more interesting facts about the tribe. It is socially acceptable for a man to remarry many times. Some Maasai men have upto ten wives, his own friend had six. “How is it that the government lets the Maasai kill lions and cross borders without restrictions?” He told me that the government as well as people of Tanzania are very cooperative with the Maasai tribe; any one can claim the land as theirs without any legal proof of ownership. But the situation will soon change, i weighed in. When modernism spreads across Tanzania like it has taken over India, people will become less empathetic towards the Maasais and there will be a huge social divide, something we see a lot in India today. “Never”, he promised. Our people will perish before there are internal conflicts. I could live the rest of my trip on these words.

The Maasai of Tanzania

Men of the tribe have to prove their worthiness by killing a lion in the wild.

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