When Angama Mara received a request for a team-building event for 40 very competitive Australians, we turned to the Maasai Olympics for inspiration. A program of spear-throwing, rungu-throwing and Maasai jumping was planned and the encouraging and congratulatory cries heard in Maa and Aussie English proved the day a great success.
A dozen red-and-blue shuka-clad Maasai warriors stand side-by-side, with their ominously tapered spears stuck forcefully in the ground beside them, and their club-like rungus clenched in their fists. Taken out of context, this is an intimidating sight, and not that long ago would have been one that preceded a traditional rite of passage to manhood: the lion hunt.
For centuries, the lions that roamed Maasailand in East Africa were under threat as age groups of young Maasai warriors approached graduation. Originally warriors hunted male lions solo but with time, elders encouraged group hunts, as the Maasai population grew while the lion population dwindled. Nowadays, with the ratio of Maasai to lions greater than ever, traditional lion hunting in Kenya is not only ecologically unsustainable and irresponsible, but also illegal.
Today at Angama Mara, however, is a different story – these fierce warriors suddenly break into wide, toothy smiles, doubling over in bouts of hooting laughter. One of the guests they’re hosting has just sent an errant rungu sailing way over its intended target and kicks the dirt, swearing loudly. The rest of his team joins in the good-hearted laughter with the warriors.
But tradition is important, and the Maasai intensely proud. In 2008, the cultural fathers of the new generation of warriors approached The Big Life Foundation to suggest an alternative: host a competition featuring skill and strength, and use it as a platform for delivering the conservation message while simultaneously fulfilling the competitive tradition. And call it “The Maasai Olympics.”
When we received a request for a team-building event for 40 very competitive Australians, we turned to the Maasai Olympics for inspiration. In short order, we’d devised a program including spear-throwing (for distance), rungu-throwing (for accuracy), and of course a couple of rounds of Maasai jumping. Three teams would compete in each event, with eyes on the coveted Maasai Shield – a beautifully beaded cowhide trophy lovingly crafted by the Maasai Mamas in our beading studio.
As if to prove just how competitive the Maasai are, a dozen warriors showed up hours before the guests arrived, and began practicing their skills. Spears and rungus flew up and down the Angama football pitch for the next several hours, as practice turned into an outright contest for bragging rights. Even as the guests arrived, the warriors couldn’t help but continue to try and outdo one another, demonstrating perfectly to the mzungus, “this is how it should be done.”
With Angama’s Maasai Naturalists Fred Ole Sinoni and John “Neke” Peenko acting as the Olympics facilitators, the guests broke into three groups of nine competitors (and one group of a dozen Tusker-wielding spectators) before linking up with their hosts and coaches, the local Maasai warriors.
Shouts of encouragement and cries of celebration (in Maa and Aussie English) mixed with much laughter filled the air and created an atmosphere of good-natured fun with a healthy dose of competition.
As the dust settled, each team had victoriously claimed an event, but the one team that had garnered the most points was declared the winner and ceremoniously bestowed with Angama’s first Maasai Olympics Champion’s Shield.
After congratulating the competitors from Down Under and thanking them for their participation, the warriors headed back to their manyattas gossiping along the way about the poor skills of these guests and how could they possibly survive back home in Sydney without being able to accurately lob a rungu at a passing tiger snake.
TAGGED WITH: Maasai Culture, Maasai Mara, Maasai Olympics, Maasai Tradition, Team