I was in the middle of a rainbow coloured nowhere and loving it.
I had my match in the wardrobe stakes for my appreciation of colour had nothing on this Maasai village.
Olpopongi-Maasai Cultural Village is the first of its kind in Tanzania, tourism wise. Located 74 km away from the mountain town of Moshi, this peaceful village is simplistic in its appearance. Made up of roughly ten small traditional mud huts mapped in a circle, it stands on semi arid lands with Mount Kilimanjaro in its midst. It’s occupants? The colourfully and vibrantly clothed Maasai tribe with bright materials and decorative handmade jewellery adorning their bodies. The overall setting sure does leave you breathless looking far into the outback abyss but it is its dwellers that will stimulate your senses – and for many reasons!
Seclusion, serenity and wonder spring to mind when you enter through the gates of this small populated village. Usually I would shy away from this type of tourist attraction that caters to outsiders having an insight into one’s culture. Why? Because to some degree, I deem it to be inauthentic but this experience was quite the contrary. It was the most amazing cultural experience I have ever been a part of and here I will explain why.
Life in a Maasai Boma
It was compelling to find out more and have a first hand experience in the traditional mud huts that made up the village, otherwise known as a Boma. A traditional boma is made up of a variety of circular houses which are built with the simplest of natural materials – mud, cow dung and sticks. The house is capped off with a roof plastered with cow dung (which makes it waterproof) and covered with grass collected in the bush. Although small in appearance (roughly 3 x 5m in size), the mud hut houses are not studio spaces as they are divided into small rooms to cook, sleep, socialise and even store small livestock. It is usually dark inside and have a few tiny round holes as windows to peek through so make sure you have a torch handy!
Forget sleeping on a four poster bed that resembles cloud nine as each mud hut features a bed made up of sticks and an inflatable mattress complete with a mosquito net hovering over the top. It may sound like a rough night’s sleep but truthfully, this is where sticks and stones won’t break your bones as it provided a comfortable nights’ sleep. Yes, my body was on top of a mattress with a pile of sticks below and on either side but that just gave it that extra bit of authenticity being in the bush.
Interesting enough (but not surprisingly), it is not the men that build the huts rather it is the woman made to build them taking the term ‘strong independent woman’ to a whole new level. Only pregnant and elderly women are sparred with flexing muscle to build these huts. The elder ladies however, instruct the younger generation on how to build these houses. The process of building a mud hut can take anything from a few days to a few weeks and it really depends on how many women are there to lend a hand and if all the building materials are available. As they are simple to make, they are also easy to maintain or leave behind if the tribe goes on its nomadic ways although this is becoming less frequent with many Maasai tribes.
In the middle of the boma, livestock (usually cattle) are usually kept inside to safe guard them from outside wildlife – after all, we are in the middle of the African bush – however as this was a boma for tourists, it featured wooden picnic tables and a fire pit.
Around the huts, the boma is surrounded by a circular fence of thick and thorny bushes to protect the tribe, their livestock, other tribes and predators.
I cannot explain the feeling of waking up in the morning to stepping outside of my mud hut to see the bright orange sun alighting the red and shrubby lands with its rays. It is here I felt this sense of complete awe of really living in the moment and really being blown away with the stillness and beauty of my surroundings.
A sustainable life
The Olpopongi Village makes use of solar energy to produce the need electricity. Firewood found locally is used to assist with cooking, baking and to provide hot water. Although cows are invaluable to a village, it is understandably that water is deemed the most valuable and is delivered to the village on local trucks travelling over a long distance.
I did see tribe members carry plastic water tanks to collect water and it was something that certainly hit home to see how far removed we are to really appreciate how easy we have it in a Western world to access clean and healthy water by the turn of a tap.
The dance off
As soon as we stepped in Olpopongi-Maasai-Cultural Village, my tour group and I were treated to a welcome dance by woman dancing and singing. They certainly had the vocal chops as their voices collectively were so powerful and spine-tingling inducing. Of course, I did not know what they were singing about but it was the passion in their voices, their clapping, the smiles that made me speechless and in awe. Girl just wanted to get involved!
Soon enough, I was pulled to join in by one of the Maasai woman, to jumped up and down with them on the same spot with my head held high and facing off. This of course, was unlike any dance I have ever taken part of as I was made to go right in the middle of the singing and dancing women collective. This had nothing on Shakira and Waka Waka!
To see me in action and busting out all the Maasai dance moves – see below!
Through the teachings of their small open air museum on site, we found out that the Maasai warrior men can have as many wives as they would like! Tough life for the men with women not only building houses for them, cooking, they also bear his children. Apparently one warrior has so many wives that there is a primary school big especially for his kids!
So men, if you are really into living a good life without doing much, becoming a Masaai warrior may be the chosen path for you. Although proving yourself worthy as one is not easy – good luck!
Besides receiving an income by welcoming people from all walks of life to have an insight into the lives of a traditional Maasai tribe, there are other ways that the Olpopongi Maasai Village raises funds.
To raise money to support the village (and without any pressure whatsoever), the village sells locally made tribal jewellery that you are most certain never to find at a high street department store. Support local and rock out a stylish and unique look – it is a win for all really!
What’s for dinner?
The next part was an eye opening experience and would be a dinner I certainly would never forget.
Back in the western world, we are so far removed from where our food comes from. Never mind grabbing that neatly packed tray of chicken breasts from the fridge aisles of a supermarket – do you even give it one thought of that being a few animals that met an untimely fate? I am not a vegetarian although I do live a very vegglicious lifestyle – if you want to put a label on it, call me a flexitarian or reducetarian – not that I give myself these titles but I do try not to eat as much meat as you know, let’s save animals and be healthy off Mother Earth’s fruitful and tasty treats.
We were made to sit at the wooden picnic tables located in the heart of the boma. There with a small rope as a leash, was a goat munching away on grass with a few Maasai men warriors acting as supervisors, sharpening their sticks and getting ready for the kill. Little did that goat know that it was going to be made into a feast to serve over 20 people.
As the sun had set, the night became increasingly cooler so I ran back into my small mud hut to retrieve my jumper as the bonfire was not going to cut it. Once I returned, the goat was no longer.
**Warning – this is where I get a tad graphic**
I came back into the middle of the boma to see the four legs of a goat twitching on a bed of small sticks, surround by Maasai warriors who had just slit its throat to death via machete. Once the goat had its last gasp for air, the Maasai warriors started to cut the goat in ways that it would be made easier to skin the goat. It was done in a fashion that was similar to taking the skin off a chicken breast – they made it look like it was done with ease.
After the skin was taken off the goat, it was time to hack off all limbs. Nothing is spared as each limb was cut off and put on a stake and placed around the bonfire that we were sitting around. Even the organs of the goat were placed on stakes around the fire and it was just a tad too unnerving to see fluids come out of the organs while they were being smoked – I know, this description is too much to stomach!
It was an unusual scenario to be a part of – sitting by a bonfire with dead goat body parts being smoked and having night time conversation as usual. Every now and then Masaai warriors joined in on the bonfire to rotate the stakes to make sure the goat was cooked. Keep calm and smoke on.
**Next part – totally gruesome**
The was even one Maasai warrior that was beating the head of the goat on the fire to be rid of the fur. It was so fascinating to watch as he would just put his hand in the fire, grab the head, bang it a few times to get rid of the ash and place it back the fire and repeat.
As I mentioned before, nothing was left to waste as the testicles of the goat was also placed in the fire. This is deemed a very tasty part of the goat. Although I do like out of the box experiences, especially when it comes to food, this was going to far for me. In the end, only one of us in the group was game to try and the verdict? They enjoyed the mouthful!
After everything was smoked, they were removed from the fire where one Maasai warrior, with machete in hand, started to chop up the body parts. The meat was cut into bite sized pieces and served up on platters being passed around.
I must admit I did try a bit as I felt compelled too – the small piece I did try was cooked to perfection however I could not swallow it as I felt a bit unnerved having seen the goat slaughtered before my very eyes.
The verdict of my experience overall
The whole experience was very eye opening in more ways than one. Although very much hard to stomach at times (literally speaking), I was just so fascinated by the Maasai people and their culture. From the origins of how their tribes came to be, traditional dance and food preparations to their relationships with one an other, I was captivated by their fearlessness and ways of life. And who would not want to be exposed to that?
Disclaimer: I travelled as a guest as a part of a fabulous tour of Tanzania with Pristine Trails