In the shadow of the famous Mt. Kilimanjaro, among the golden plains of the Great Rift Valley, live a fascinating people. These people are known as the Maasai, a nomadic tribe of cattle herders located in Northern Tanzania and Southern Kenya. Though their tribal life would seem strange to most modern people, perhaps the lives of the Maasai women are the strangest. The life of a Maasai woman is one of degradation and hardship. She has little self worth. Can her life be improved? Will adapting to modern ways help these oppressed women?
A Maasai woman is expected to do all of the work of the family including tending the cattle, which is their only source of food and clothing. Her husband expects to be obeyed and expects his needs to be taken care of immediately and without fail. Wife beating is the generally accepted method for controlling, motivating, and punishing used by the husbands according to Cheryl Bentson an American woman who lived in Kenya and made friends with the Massai. A woman can be expected to be beaten "if the thorn gate is
worn out when the husband comes home; if the animals get ticks and the women do not take care of them; if it rains and the hut leaks while the husband is sleeping" (131). Maasai society is blatantly chauvinistic. When asked by researchers if they would like to go to school and get a job in the city, they refuse, claiming their husbands would kill them. For the women of the Maasai, life can be a never-ending chore. The women have no power to change their lives since the men control every aspect of them.
Throughout time, Maasai women have handled most of the backbreaking work in their society, which almost always involves cattle. The Maasai depend almost entirely on cattle for their survival and do not cultivate the land to grow crops. In fact, as Sonia Bleeker states in The Masai Herders of East Africa, the Maasai believe that in the olden days God gave them all the cattle in the world and therefore it would be unworthy of a Massai to dig in the earth to grow crops. It also follows that any cattle elsewhere in the world was stolen from them (12). The Maasai male counts among his achievements the cattle they are able to take from other tribes on their notorious raids. The role that livestock plays in a Maasai woman's life is beyond the grasp of most of us. Throughout a girl's childhood it is her responsibility to help care for the precious herd, which supports her and her family. The cattle provide the women with hide from which they mend their family's clothes, costumes and blankets, and bones from which the women
construct various utensils. The cattle also supply certain organs, which are used for jugs and other various containers, and of course food, which in Maasai society consists almost entirely of milk, meat, and blood (Bleeker 25). This extreme dependence on livestock is a very dangerous way of life. Modernization in East Africa is slowly decreasing the boundaries of Maasailand so the Maasai...