DURING OUR SCHOOL holidays spent on the white sands at the coast of Kenya, as a child I didn't immediately question the number of Maasai men on the beach selling beaded jewellery, boat tours and other holiday spoils to the gathered European and US tourists.
That is until one morning, on a beach walk, my dad greeted a man cloaked in red with the most basic Maa greeting, “sova”, and got a response in Kiswahili, the national language and dominant lingua franca of the coastal region. Dad tried again to no avail and turned to me with a smirk saying, “See? They’re not even really Maasai”. Come to think of it he didn’t have the stretched earlobes that many adult Maasai men do. And, although they’re semi-nomadic people, generally those who choose to live a more traditional pastoralist life will be found moving between the central highlands down into Northern Tanzania. This far East, not so much.
The iconic existence of these tall, dark, lean people, who have so well preserved their traditional dress and way of life is by now synonymous with “that rich, exotic culture to immerse yourself in on a visit to Kenya and Tanzania” along with your wildlife safari. With tourists happy to pay for native-looking crafts, a dance or jumping show and even a photograph, why wouldn’t one try their hand at playing a part in this economy?
Years later, working at the front desk of a South African hostel, two peppy German backpackers approached to ask where in Cape Town they could try some African food. Dissatisfied with my recommendations of shisa nyama [South African barbecue] and Cape Malay [an ethnic group in South Africa] cuisine, they specified that they wanted to try “buffalo meat and crazy stufflike that”.
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