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Modern Warriors

A chance invitation to a rare occasion. Granted special permission, Adam Bannister documents an ancient Maasai rite of passage in the context of modern life
Red ochre painted young Maasai warriors chanting together

A few days ago I received an invitation to attend a tremendously special event – a Maasai warrior graduation ceremony. Taking place roughly every 5 years, this was to be held about an hour’s drive west of Angama Mara, in the direction of Lake Victoria. With absolutely no idea of what to expect, I quickly packed all my cameras into a car and sped off in hopes of capturing this rare event.

The warriors preparing the meat from the cows slaughtered in honour of the occasion

I arrived mid-morning to find red ochre-painted young men, fully kitted out in their traditional Maasai shukas, in the midst of slaughtering five cows. It was like an outdoor abattoir. Plumes of smoke could be seen rising from the pockets of forest fragments, chunks of meat, lanced onto branches, roasting on the flames. To one side a large but temporary manyatta (small village) had been erected with a number of small huts. We met the community elder who walked us through the manyatta and introduced us to a number of people. He gave us a very brief explanation of what we may see during the course of the day and why it was all happening.

Maasai warriors kitted in their traditional shukas, walking through the manyatta

He also, very kindly, allowed me to take photographs of certain parts of the ceremony. It was clear from the outset that nothing was staged. This was completely authentic and for the next few hours a handful of us ‘outsiders’ were offered a front row seat into a custom as old as the Maasai themselves.

The warriors stand to have their photograph taken during a quiet moment in the ceremony

What struck me immediately was that although the majority of what was unfolding before us was ancient in its traditions, there was definitely a modern spin and influence. First, there were the numbers of cell phones being used to record the ceremony, followed by the bottles of spring water being drunk, the sports shoes, the long cartoon-printed socks, and the photobooth being erected to the side – with a backdrop that had Lamborghinis, Porsches, fancy houses, hot air-balloons, helicopters and aeroplanes. This was a Maasai party for the modern day!

Modern warriors wearing sports shoes and the long cartoon-printed socks
Maasai warriors posing at the very festive photobooth

The catchment area around Angama Mara falls under a subset of the Maasai known as ‘The Siria Maasai’. The Siria Maasai consist of 5 sub-clans: Irkunono, Olorien, Ilaisier, Iltorobo and Irkaputie. During this phase the warriors of each sub-clan build their own camps where they live – honing their skills while learning age-old traditions.

Maasai warriors presenting themselves and their cows to the elders

The way I understood it, the focus of this day was for the warriors from one of the sub-clans to come together and present themselves, and their cows, to the elders of all the five sub-clans. Each sub-clan had to send a cow as an offering. The other four sub-clans will meet in the upcoming days in similar events. Once all five of the sub-clans have met the Siria Maasai elders, the warrior-group will be given a name, and a date will be set for the massive graduation ceremony for this ‘age group’ of warriors to become junior elders within the community.

A modern Maasai celebration including jumping, singing, dancing, celebrating and capturing the moments

There was much jumping, singing, dancing, blessing, and celebrating. It was a privilege to have been allowed to witness this special day. The highlight for me was undoubtedly the moment when the young warriors huddled up close together into a circle and started chanting – a sound so guttural, so unifying, so moving, that it hits you right in the chest. It left me in absolute awe. Fortunately, I had my camera. Because I was speechless.

Note from the Editor

With permission from the warriors themselves, Adam managed to film this wonderful video of the celebration.

Filed under: The Mara

Tagged with:

Maasai Celebration , Maasai Culture , Maasai Mara , Maasai Tradition , People , Photography

About: Adam Bannister

A South African-trained biologist, safari guide, author, filmmaker and photographer, Adam is, above all else, a gifted storyteller. After spending the past 10 years working in some of the world’s most beautiful wild places – the Sabi Sand Game Reserve in South Africa, Rajasthan in India, Brazil’s Pantanal, and the rainforests of Manu National Park in Peru – he is delighted to share his stories of one of the loveliest game reserves of them all, the Maasai Mara.

Browse all articles by Adam Bannister Meet the angama team

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Join the Conversation (4 comments)

Comments (4):

Eric Lu

26 March 2021

Loved this post, thanks for sharing.

Kimpai Lekutuk

23 March 2021

This is amazing Adam keep the fire burning

ellen van hilten

23 March 2021

FANTASTIC THAT YOU WERE ABLE TO VISIT AND PHOTOGRAPH AND HOW SPECIAL THE MODERN TIMES REPRESENTED IN PHONES, SOCKS AND SHOES. WE LIVED IN KENYA ABOUT 40 YEARS AGO AND WITNESSED ONCE A GROUP OF YOUNG WARRIORS RUNNING THROUGH THE MARA WITH THE OSTRICH FEATHERS AROUND THEIR HEADS. WONDERFUL. WE STILL COME TO KENYA,, HAVE ALSO VISITED ANGAMA, BUT AT LEAST TWICE A YEAR WE MAKE A SAFARI FROM OUR HOLIDAY HOME ON THE COAST OF KENYA. WE LOVE THE COUNTRY AND THE PEOPLE.

    Ryan Brown

    13 April 2021

    Thanks for your note, Ellen. It's hard not to love Kenya! We hope to see you in the Mara on your next visit. Best, RB

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