John Tyman's
Cultures in Context Series
Studies of the Maasai, the Luhya, and Nairobi's Urban Fringe
27. Maasai Villages : 344-352
Click for full-screen images..
344. Government restrictions on grazing have significantly reduced the amount of movement possible by a people who once roamed far and wide in search of grass for their cattle. Many now live in the same place all year-round. But both the layout of their settlements and the character of their homes still reflect their pastoral tradition. (Settlement north of Maralal.)
345. Because the Maasai moved their herds with the changing seasons, and pastured their animals within a day's walk of home, their settlements were neither large nor permanent. In the south of Kenya the word enkang means a village of family homes and a manyatta is a camp occupied by young warriors and their girl friends. In northern Kenya, however, the word manyatta is commonly used today to refer to any cluster of houses.
346. An enkang could have 20 or 30 houses in it, but sometimes only two or three. These are traditionally arranged in a circle, inside a solid fence of brushwood and thorn bushes to discourage thieves and predators. The occupants would often be related but not always.
347. Each man has his own gateway, closed off at night -- in this case with the aid of wooden planks -- and his wives build their houses inside the fence. They do so in a set order -- the first wife on the right of the gate (as you enter it), the second wife on the left, the third on the right, and so on.
348. Sketch Plan of Typical Maasai Settlement. The numbers indicate the ranking of each manís wives Ė 1st, 2nd, 3rd etc. The former gate, now blocked off, and the break in the ring of houses indicate that one family has moved away. The village in this sketch was occupied by four married men and one widow. Their main herds are penned together, but each woman has her own fenced yard for calves beside her house.
349. At night all livestock are brought inside the fence for protection, and the gateways are blocked off with brushwood and/or timber. Since one man may own 70 cows, plus a similar number of sheep and goats, and a dozen donkeys, the area inside the fence can get crowded.
350. Additional fenced enclosures (known as bomas) may be built inside the main one, sometimes to provide further protection for the cattle; at other times to separate off each family's calves, sheep, and goats. The cows are milked outside each house. (Old house with derelict boma.)
351. This man lived in an area where lions were a constant threat. He had built a substantial stockade to protect his cattle, but the week before I stayed with him a lion had jumped over the fence and killed three of his calves: so he had added a roof to his cattle yard. He was a lay preacher and traveled cross-country (by-passing lions!) on his bicycle.
352. In this photo you can see two old circular bomas of thorn bushes, used for the overnight protection of livestock when their owners were too far away to return to their village at night.


Text, photos and recordings by John Tyman
Intended for Educational Use Only.
Contact Dr. John Tyman at johntyman2@gmail.com
for more information regarding licensing.

Photo processing, Web page layout, formatting and hosting by
William Hillman ~ Brandon, Manitoba ~ Canada