Inspired Words

These are the experiences of our volunteers in Kenya.

May 31: Masaii Boma

Posted in Kenya on June 2, 2009

After breakfast, we pack up and leave the campsite. The plan is to go to a Masaii Boma before hitting the road. A Masaii Boma is an opportunity to enter a Masaii village to see how the Masaii tribe lives. There is an admission cost of 800 shillings per person. We had discussed earlier whether we were comfortable paying in order to see another community. Many of us, including me, have our reservations, but decide that a Boma would be a good way to learn about the Masaii community – the third most populous of Kenya’s 42 tribes.
We arrive to the village and are given a dance by the Masaii warriors. They also show us their mating dance, which showcases how high the men can jump. Then, the Masaii guide takes us into one of the huts. The Masaii tribe is a polygamous community, where one man can have up to 10 wives. Each wife builds her own hut, which houses the children. The huts are made out of cow dung and are only as tall as the wife’s height, so most of us have to bend down in order to enter.
I’m shocked by how basic the huts is; there are just two beds made out of sticks and cloth and a small fire pit in the middle to cook food.The Masaii people only eat one meal a day, which is either the meat of a slaughtered goat or cow. They also drink the animal’s blood raw.Kayla asks where they get their source of other nutrients, but the guide appears confused. The Masaii eat nothing but meat. I didn’t even know it was possible to survive as a carnivore!
Afterwards, the Masaii men show us how they make a fire out of cow dung by sparking a flame with a knife. They use cow dung for many things, and so there are thousands of flies everywhere. I’m embarrassed to admit to myself that I feel uncomfortable and a little disgusted by the dirtiness of their village.
The guide later tells us what life is like for the Masaii. At the age of nine, a boy is circumcised and sent out to the bush for six months to fend for himself. If he survives, he earns the title of a warrior. Later, he must kill a lion, and if he succeeds, then he is ready to marry. The guide tells us that girls are also circumcised at the age of nine, and marry at about 14. The news about female circumcision makes me sick to my stomach. Thoughts begin spinning in my head and I’m at a loss for words. I never thought of myself as being western-centric. I don’t want to pass judgment and try to be culturally sensitive. But whichever way I look at it, I cannot justify their practice. And yet I can’t bring myself to ask the guide why they circumcise girls.
At the end of the tour, the guide takes us to their curio shop. We’re pressured by the women to buy their gifts. As some of the team bargain down prices and get souvenirs, I stand in the corner by myself. My knees feel weak. I see a young mother breastfeeding her baby and guess that she is no more than 14-years-old. She looks pre-pubescent – no more than a child herself. I start to feel nauseous and simply want to leave.
Back on the truck, I sit alone. Suddenly, my eyes well up in tears and I begin sobbing uncontrollably. I’m angry at this community. Angry that girls are circumcised, married off at such a young age, and forced to bear children. I’m angry that the Masaii are exoticized by the West and marveled at for their “eccentric” practices. I’m angry that we paid to see their community. Angry that the whole experience was so exploitative – on their part and ours. I’m angry that we didn’t actually learn anything about the Masaii because we are left with more questions than answers.
I can’t reconcile being cultural sensitive with the protection of what I believe to be fundamental human rights. And I’m not even sure if I should try.

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