Background Information

The Maa community is straddled between Kenya and Tanzania. They are semi-nomadic pastoralists and they keep different species of livestock that form the foundation for their traditional occupations and livelihood. There are several Maa sections based on their socio-territorial set-ups, traditional occupations, and cultural practices. Some of the sections include the Il-Laikipiak, Il Purko, Il Damat, Il- Loitai (Loita), Il Sambur(Samburu), Il Tiamus (Njemps), Il Kisongo, Il Parakuyo, etc.

In Kenya, Maa communities live in the southern and north-central parts of the country, while in Tanzania, the majority of the Maa people are found in northern Tanzania. Their population in Kenya is estimated to be approximately 1 million- if different sections are put together.

Although Maa is one of the most well-researched ethnic groups in Kenya by academicians, anthropologists, and tourists, they still remain among misunderstood and misinterpreted communities by the government and development agencies working in the areas. Some research studies have only managed to strengthen and deepen stereotypes and misunderstandings about the Maa people and their pastoralist way of life.

The social organization of the Maa communities is based on the clan and age–set systems and this is what informs and forms their social and traditional decision making and governance institutions and systems. Their continued interaction with nature/environment has also enabled them to establish skills and customary laws that ensure that natural resources are utilized in a sustainable manner. This has been violated by the greed for land and other natural resources to feed the ever-growing demand for indigenous resources including the rangelands that the Maa depend on for their livelihood.

The Maa community is one of the communities claiming indigenous rights and identity in East Africa. The notion and concept of indigenous people are being used by pastoralists and hunter-gatherers to advance their struggle for recognition, respect, and restitution of their ancestral land claims and fight against the on going social and policy exclusions. The Maa people are pastoralists who derive their livelihood through traditional livestock occupations and management. Through the long-term direct and sustained interaction with nature, Maa communities have developed, evolved, and propagated unsurpassed indigenous skills, knowledge, and practices that have enabled the community to survive in areas considered as wastelands, drylands, and/or rangelands.

The Maa community has managed to overcome the strong currents of the Western cultural influence but now it is being faced by a lot of cultural erosion threats, cultural dispossessions, cultural and natural resources piracy. However, due to marginalization and commercialization under colonialism and thereafter, they have now been excluded and their ancestral lands and natural resources have been expropriated from them and are now exclusive world-class tourism destinations.

The culture and traditional occupations and economies of the Maa communities are at risk due to policies and national practices that do not take their needs and knowledge into accounts. In such regards, people are not part of National Development Planning, they become victims of progress that ends up destroying their wealth of skills, heritage, livelihood, and cultures that have been built over years.

The second economic income to Kenya is tourism, which is promoted by the Maa culture and wildlife that have co-existed with Maa for ages. The conserved favorable environments for both human and wildlife settlements are found in Maa land but nobody has ever thought of documenting and preserving such a rich culture for sustainable development. People have been exploiting and abusing this culture for their own commercial benefits. Having such high income to the country has even made Maa people continue being poor every day. This is a resource the country is ignoring and the community has to be empowered so that they enhance their livelihoods using their rich culture and traditional knowledge.

In view of this, the Maa Cultural Heritage in collaboration with the Maa community leads a collaborative process of establishing a cultural resource museum to promote, protect, and preserve this culture and enhance the effective participation of these communities in protecting their culture for the future generations.

Globalization has made the world into one village and with modern technology, people can now read, get, and share information of any kind from different cultures on this earth. Maa Cultural Heritage website has the potential to make Maa culture known to different people across the globe and through networking, this culture can be protected as friends, individuals, organizations, researchers can assist in documentation and dissemination of information to create awareness.

The threats the Maa cultural activities face currently include;

  • Lack of formally documented facts about the culture.
  • The exploitation of culturally linked resources like traditional herbs.
  • Patenting of traditional knowledge, commercialization of culture for other peoples’ gains, and use of peoples’ culture/images without consent and benefits from the culture without adequate benefit sharing.

The disintegration, assimilation, and erosion of cultures particularly in Africa have transformed communities into spectators rather than rights holders. This position has further accelerated the rapid loss of their social and traditional structures and as a consequence continued to disrupt their socio-economic, cultural, and political rights. The external pressures such as privatization, the new concept of wildlife conservation, and the extension of multinational companies to rural areas has continued to be a threat to peoples culture as this has completely interfered with the traditional way of governance, disrupted the survival mechanisms of sharing communal resources and hence people lose their focus i.e. traditional way of life and end up confused by the abrupt modern development approaches. As a remedy to this, the Maa Cultural Heritage intends to engage a development approach through harmonizing the traditional system of governance with modern ways by building and strengthening the already existing community traditional systems. This is the starting point in a bid to empower the community to participate in their own development.

The organization also intends to record, document, and use Maa songs in conflict mitigation and conflict resolution and create awareness on HIV/AIDS. Different folk songs in Maa languages have specific information to relay and most of these songs were used to praise cattle rustlers and raids which is the major source of conflict in the northern districts. This being a unique approach, it will be felt that the same indigenous songs are used to discourage this act that causes the lives of people, and now is used to promote peace and advocate for the whole community development.