Song and dance as Maa cultural festival kicks off

Colour, song and dance as Maa Cultural Festival kicks off at Masai Mara's Sekenani Gate. [Peter Muiruri, Standard]

It was colour, song and dance as the much-anticipated Maa Cultural Festival commenced at Sekenani, Narok County on Monday. The four-day festival will bring together 12,000 members from 18 Maa-speaking communities from Kenya and Tanzania.

 At Masai Mara’s Sekenani Gate which usually teems with tourists eager to visit the world-famous wildlife reserve, it is business unusual as various groups intend to showcase their cultural identity including food, clothing, sports, and musical talents.

It was a kaleidoscope of colour, red being the dominating hue, as the Maa community members from the main sub-tribes of Kekonyokie, Purko, Uasin Gishu, Moitanik, Ildamat, Iloitai, Matapato, Kaputiei and Ilodokilan from Narok and Kajiado joined those from Samburu, Marsabit, and parts of Tanzania in filing past the assembled guests as popular music from the different groups blared from giant loudspeakers.

In adjacent grounds, scores of young men were sweating it out as they roasted goat meat impaled on skewers, an indication of the celebration that awaited the guests. On the other end, the ever-vibrant women were tending to stalls showcasing the various cultural artefacts.

Kimaren Ole Riamit, the chairperson of the Maa Cultural Taskforce was heavy with emotions about the event, a first in several generations and whose theme, Maasinat Ai Olkerreti Lang’ (My Maa nation, my cultural heritage) resonated with his desire to see the related communities reunite.

“I am very nostalgic for the past when the Maa nation was together before they ascended the Kerio Valley,” said Riamit. For those not exposed to the social organization of the Maasai, there are I8 different units, each with a geographical location and identity. Other than geography, most of the other cultural elements are the same. They speak the same language, same rite of passage and on average same dress code.”

According to a programme seen by The Standard, Monday was marked by music, while Tuesday will showcase the love of cattle among the Maa community. On Wednesday, the communities will shine a spotlight on local fashion and pageantry while Thursday, the groups will showcase their sporting prowess.

“Why is it that the Maasai who have held the spear from childhood on have never made it to the Olympics? There is sword and rungu throwing as well as board games. There is even a kids’ corner for those who may have disconnected from the cultural values,” said Riamit.

However, Riamit was quick to state that the ceremony is not meant to ‘bring back’ cultural values as if these were lost but “fortifying, solidifying and embedding it into a modern world”. “You hear people jokingly say there were ‘three people and a Maasai’ because the (Maa) are known by their distinct culture that cannot be replicated anywhere else on the planet. The next generation must stay connected with the current cultural values,” he said.

The event that will be hosted on a rotational basis by Maa-speaking counties is among those earmarked by Kenya Tourism Board to showcase Kenya’s vast and varied cultural identity.