Simanjiro, May 2015. These Maasai men who have just undergone circumcision are jumping up and down as part of the celebration ceremony of their becoming morani (warriors). Many of them wear red face paint to show that they are the fiercest in the group. In the past, in order to be considered a man, a young Maasai would have to kill a lion, but this no longer the case since it's not legal to kill them any more outside of defending themselves or their cows. As well as circumcising the men, most Maasai still practice female genital mutilation (FGM). Many in this region however, including this village, have abandoned it due to their self-initiated conversion to Christianity.
The Maasai are a semi-nomadic people who live in Tanzania and parts of southern Kenya. Historically, the Maasai keep themselves separate from the rest of the culture. They’re herders, and live in the more remote parts of the country. They don’t easily trust outsiders, and they look at themselves as being superior to other groups. A joke that they like is “Those Bantu, they’ll tell you they’re your friend and then when your not looking, they’ll steal your cow. Maasai are different. A Maasai will go up to you and say ‘I’m going to steal you cow’ and then do it.” This group lives in the Simanjiro region of Tanzania, which is a vast arid plain above the Rift Valley. They are unique in that they were among the first Maasai to convert to Christianity, and did so without having been coerced by missionaries. Throughout the 20th century Maasai had been introduced to Christianity a number of times, but it only really took hold in small groups here and there. Most of them regarded it as a curiosity, and kept their traditional religious beliefs. About 20 years ago in Simanjiro, a Maasai woman named Eli-Saba heard a voice telling her to go ask about someone named Jesus, and that he would have the answer she was looking for. In Maasai culture, hearing voices doesn't carry the stigma of mental illness that it does in the West. They also aren't seen as something to be afraid of, and tend to be friendly to the point of being welcomed. Eli-Saba decided to listen to what this voice had to say because the answer she was looking for was incredibly important to her.
Simanjiro, May 2015. Maasai Morani (warrior) during the circumcision ceremony, after which they will be recognized as men and charged with the responsibility of defending their village and their cows. During the ceremony, many young men wear red face paint and the warriors hair to indicate that they are the fiercest of the group.
For a long time, it was common practice for Morani to habitually rape and sexually abuse young women. It was tolerated both because of their high social status, and the relatively low social status of young women. Eli-Saba was afraid. Afraid for herself, and for the other young women. Her friends and family, people she cared about were vulnerable and there was no way to keep themselves safe, or even speak out against what was happening to them. That's why when she heard a voice telling her that there was an answer, she took it seriously and did what the voice told her she needed to do. There was a woman living nearby named Agelica, who had moved to Tanzania from Germany as an 18 year old. She was a devout Christian who had decided that she wanted to bring her faith to the Maasai, but hadn't been successful. Not long after arriving in Simanjiro she realized that young women, especially foreign young women, were very low in the social hierarchy. Her expectations had to be tempered by the reality that nobody was going to listen to anything she said, so she waited. She waited for years, living with the Maasai and slowly becoming a part of their community. Some thought she was a little bit crazy, many felt sorry for her because she wasn't married, but most people liked her.
Simanjiro, May 2015. During the ceremony, the men gathered in a circle and took turns running through the middle to take a flying leap, sometimes one by one and sometimes in pairs, kicking up clouds of dirt. The whole group cheered them on and chanted.
Eli-Saba began to meet with Angelica to talk about Christianity. The social implications of what Jesus had to say, particularly the amount of respect he had for women when compared to the men in her community, had a profound impact on her. She took these radical ideas back to the other women in her tribe and together they began to gather together every evening and discuss Christianity and write songs about it. Together they started the En-Kata Choir, which was not only a way to band together for protection, but a way to express their desire for social change in a way that they owned.
Simanjiro, May 2015.
Simanjiro, May 2015.
Simanjiro Plain, May 2015
The Oribili river supplies water to many of the surrounding communities. It is a 4km round-trip for this man from his home to the river for water. Donkeys are used to carry water back, and are a kind of community resource. While someone may have a donkey that they use exclusively, it isn't necessarily considered to be that person's property.
Maasai man by the Orbili River in Simanjiro, May 2015
Cows are a central part of Maasai culture, and much of their lives are centered around their care. There's an old traditional belief that says their god Engai gifted all the cows in the world to the Maasai. Traditional Maasai religion is interesting in that it is monotheistic, in stark contrast from other East African religions which tend to be heavily polytheistic and animalistic. Many people believe that thousands of years ago, Maasai came into contact with one of the tribes of Abraham, and modeled their religion after ancient Judaism.
Simanjiro Plain, May 2015
Young Maasai shepherd, Simanjiro Plain, May 2015
This is Maliaki. He is one of the leaders of the En-Kata choir, a group of Maasai singers who live in Northern Tanzania’s Simanjiro region. Maliaki is also part of the leadership of MAPED, an NGO that is building a school in Simanjiro for Maasai boys and girls. The En-Kata choir is funding the school by touring throughout the United States and Canada.
School director Maliaki, Simanjiro, May 2015
Daniel, a young Maasai man stands at the edge of Shimo la Mungu (Hole of God) crater near Arusha, Tanzania. Like the more well known Ngorogoro Crater, Shimo la Mungu is a volcanic crater. Unlike its larger cousin, the only wildlife you'll be likely to find here are goats and cows tended by local Maasai. Arusha, December 2015
Kilimanjaro, June 2015
The Rift Valley Escarpment from the slope of Ol Doinyo Lengai, an active volcano overlooking Lake Natron. Arusha Region, July 2015