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The Loita Maasai

 

Maasai Boy

Herder

The Loita Maasai

“Unreachable” aptly describes the Loita Maasai. They are a subset of the Maasai community whose population of about 20,000 occupies an area of southwestern Kenya. The region is remote and without effective infrastructure. This, combined with the Loita’s traditional reputation as the most conservative of the Maasai, has contributed to their status as one of the nearly “unreachable” people of the world.

The intention has always been that through Ilkerin Loita Integral Development Programme (ILIDP) the Loita Maasai pastoralists will become more aware, motivated, organized and able to tackle poverty and marginalization. The further intention is that the programme will work to empower the Loita to manage and direct their own development and other desired changes necessary to improve their life.

Over the years ILIDP has evolved as an autonomous organization, managed and led by indigenous Loita Maasai. It implements a broad range of activities and plays an important role of mediating change and transformation among the Loita Maasai by:

  • Mobilizing the Loita Maasai community to work together while maximizing their traditional institutional capacities to support sustainable development.
  • Increasing the community capacity to achieve self-reliance, by developing individual and household capacities and opportunities for self-actualization.
  • Strengthening community-based institutions to improve service delivery.
  • Enabling dynamic, strategic and integrated development that enhances the livelihoods of the Loita Maasai.
  • Targeting the vulnerable and marginalized sectors of the community, specifically women and youth, by developing their life skills, family and community values, and responsive leadership capacity

A Capsule Look at the Maasai Community

Plains Nilotes found in Kenya and Tanzania, the 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 soul of the Maasai”. As a people they struggle to maintain their traditional culture in the face of increasing isolation and marginalization.

The 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 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 20,000 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, 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.