Kenya recognizes over fifty tribes of native people. The Maasai were the dominating tribe at beginning of 20th century. They are one of the very few tribes who have retained most of their traditions, lifestyle and lore.
In common with the wildlife with which they co-exist, the Maasai need a lot of land.
Unlike many other tribes in Kenya, the Maasai are semi-nomadic and pastoral: they live by herding cattle and goats. The Maasai’s god is Engai. They believe he created them, gave them all the cattle in the world, and later made other human beings.
The Maasai refer to the neighboring tribes of farmers and hunter-gatherers as “Ndorobo,” meaning poor folk. Maasai measure wealth by the number of cattle, so people without cattle are considered poor.
Maasai did not have villages with permanent buildings. Instead, they constructed a “enkang” (corral) for a group of families. The enkang is a circle of huts, one per family, enclosed by a circular fence of thorn bushes. The woman of each household constructs the hut from cattle dung and clay. Periodically, the groups would abandon their enkang and construct a new one in an area with better water and grazing. This old way of nomadism is almost gone, there is no more land where to roam to.
“Laibon” can be roughly translated from Maa in “witch doctor;” a better word would be “vision seeker”. Laiboni were spiritual leaders, with an ability to divine the future.
Mbatiany in the last part of the 19th century had a tremendous vision: a metal snake was coming up from the Coast, with people whose skin was the color of flamingos. If it was coming things would have never been the same again for the Maasai. He wanted to stop the snake, but the warriors had no fear and told him to let it come. He was unfortunately right. The train (the metal snake he dreamt of) arrived in last decade on 19th Century, just a few years after Mbatiany death. Through forcing his two sons, Olonana (aka Lenana) and Senteu, in land agreements, the colonial administration deprived the Maasai of their best land.
The Maasai have not fared well in modern Africa. Until the European settlers arrived, fierce Maasai tribes occupied the most fertile lands. The Maasai struggled to preserve their territory, but their spears were no match for armed British troops, and their lawyers never had a fair chance in British courtrooms. In 1904, the Maasai signed a first agreement, losing the best of their land to the European settlers. Seven years later, in 1911, a very controversial agreement was signed by a small group of Maasai, where their best Northern land (Laikipia) was given up to white settlers. Surely they did not fully understand what the consequences of such a treaty were, and anyway the signatories did not represent the entire tribe.
With these two treaties, the Maasai lost about two-thirds of their lands and were relocated to less fertile parts of Kenya and Tanzania.
Other tribes of Kenya have adapted more readily to the “progress” of modern times. In contrast, the Maasai have persisted in their traditional ways, so as Kenya takes more land for growing tribes and agriculture, they suffer.
One positive trend for the Maasai in recent years has been the development of a specific form of eco-tourism. Although other tribes in Kenya regard wildlife as food or a menace to their crops, the Maasai have proven to be able to co-exist with wildlife.
But less land for an ever growing Kenyan population means less land for the Maasai, their livestock, and wildlife. More and more, a lion will take a cow or some goats and get killed in retaliation. While in the past the retaliatory killing by poisoning was unheard of, and lions were bravely hunted on foot by warriors simply armed with spears, nowadays poisoning has become a common and very effective method. Carcasses of livestock get poisoned with a chip pesticide, easily available in the market.
Lions are a disappearing species: their numbers plunged from 100,000 ten years ago, to about 14,000 today.
Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust has pioneered a compensation program, reimbursing livestock killed by lions (and other predators). The program is called Wildlife Pays and it is supported by tourists conservation fees; it employs warriors as lions scout (more lions = more employment).
In the past the Maasai and the wildlife simply lived together, in balance. If this could be re-established, by showing to the Maasai the economic value of the presence of wildlife in their land, the future of the land, of the wildlife and of the Maasai people will be assured.
This peaceful co-existence is the base for a form of low-impact tourism like Campi ya Kanzi. Kuku Group Ranch, where the camp is located, has 400 square miles of land, and is occupied by only few thousands Maasai. The land is rich in wildlife. It adjoins Tsavo West National Park, Chyulu National Park and Amboseli National Park, representing a vital corridor and a dispersal area for these three National Parks.
Ecotourism is exactly what Campi ya Kanzi will mean for you and means for the Maasai: the lodge is owned by the Maasai community, was built by the Maasai community and it is run with and for the Maasai community. We are partners in protecting wildlife.
We need you as a visitor to make the project successful and sustainable.
The $100 conservation fee charged to every guest per day, is entirely paid to Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust and spent in favor of the Maasai of the reserve.
The Trust employs more than 200 Kenyans, as teachers at the schools, game scouts to protect wildlife, a doctor and nurses at the dispensaries.
Thus, by sharing their vast lands with a maximum of 16 visitors from Campi ya Kanzi, the Maasai of Kuku Group Ranch benefit in several ways:
- They maintain their lands in a natural state.
- They are partners in generating income which improve their life conditions and their children’s education.
- They preserve their traditional way of living and dignity.
What Campi ya Kanzi and MWCT are jointly aiming to achieve, is being able to pay “conservation dividends” to all the individuals of the Group Ranch, so that the land can be preserved as a unity, owned under one single title deed, and not subdivided. This will guarantee that those Maasai willing to keep embracing their lifestyle, will have a place to do it.
Your visit to the camp helps the Maasai retain their heritage. You will not leave by having taken something away, you will leave Campi ya Kanzi enriched by a human experience that, hopefully, will accompany you for years to come.
We hope the success of Campi ya Kanzi as a community camp, offering genuine and sustainable ecotourism, can make it a replicable model to address the needs of other tribal communities in East Africa.