Discussions of the savannah ecosystem tend to treat human beings as an external factor, rather than as a constituent part of the system. In a sense, this is correct, insofar as humans in large numbers have only been there for a few thousand years, whereas the other animals have been there for tens of millions of years. However, humans are there now, and the people who have establised a life in conjunction with the savannah are the Maasai. The Maasai are semi-nomadic cattle herders as well as cattle thieves. They are said to believe that all cattle belong to them, so that they are right to take cattle from others, as they were stolen from them in the first place.

The land on which many of the safari parks are situated is land which has traditionally been used by the Maasai.

We visited, as tourists, a Maasai village ('Manyatta') near Amboseli National Park. For $20US, the people of the village performed a welcome dance, explained the structure of their homestead, and sold us handicrafts. Although this was a tourist experience, we found the dance to be both moving and enjoyable. The women in our party who refused the handicrafts were shown the school instead, which we would all have enjoyed, however. Presumably in their past the Maasai used cattle products to make their clothing and ornaments. However, the colourful clothing for which they are renowned were brought by the British and Indians, and the basic element of their ornaments is plastic beads. Neither of these are produced by the Maasai, and many of the 'handicrafts' are exactly the same throughout Kenya, and are possibly made in China. However, this simply indicates the connection of the Maasai with the wider world, and their willingness to change in line with their own aesthetic and moral judgements, just like the rest of us. It doesn't affect the justice or  otherwise of their claim to the land of the savannah.

We enjoyed the village visit very much. It's probable that the village we saw was constructed specifically to show tourists, but it was worthwhile nonetheless. Many of the staff in the places we stayed were Maasai, and they were happy to talk about their land and life.

This section presents some photographs of Maasai life, a video of the dance we experienced, and some information about the conflict between Maasai life and conservation, and Kenyan and foreign agriculturalism and the pastoral way of life.

Savannah People: the Maasai 1/11