A Capsule Look at the Loita Maasai Community
Plain Nilotes found in Kenya and Tanzania, the Loita Maasai are semi-nomadic pastoralists whose life-way, spirituality, traditional governance and personal relationships are inextricably bound to their livestock, which are the basis of their community economy and individual wealth and social status.
It is simplistic but true to observe that “the cow is the live of the Maasai”. As a people they struggle to maintain their traditional culture in the face of increasing isolation and marginalization.
The Loita Maasai today are faced with more serious challenges than ever before! Their conservatism and fierce defence of their traditional life-way make the indigenous Maasai a hard to reach and engage group from a cultural standpoint.
Added to this is that the Loita Maasai have been left virtually untouched by the colonialists, missionaries and successive Kenya governments.
There is growing pressure to change their land tenure systems and culture. A diminishing natural resource base, food insecurity and poverty have eroded their self-confidence and self-determination.
By and large, these interwoven realities threaten the intricate social, cultural and economic fabric that has made the Maasai unique. Change is inevitable, but the issue for the Maasai is how to bend change to their own timetable and agenda.
The Loita Maasai live in southwestern Kenya and northern Tanzania, with the Kenya population estimated at 28,000 people who occupy Loita Division of Narok District, Rift Valley Province.
The Loita Maasai remain the most traditional of the Maasai sub communities. They are as physically unreachable as they are hard to reach culturally because their home range is remote, lacks the most basic infrastructure and is often simply inaccessible.
But more importantly, the Loita Maasai have their traditional institutions of governance that are still functional. They have organized themselves in age-sets as well as in clan systems. They have the largest concentration of Laibons (Maasai diviners and seers) of all the Maasai sections.
The lineage of Senteu, the famous seer and a brother to Lenana, is found among the Loita Maasai. Thus, although a numerical and political minority in Narok compared with their powerful and well-placed neighbours, the Purko Maasai, the Loita have better strategies for advocating and influencing decisions at the district level.