It is mid-morning in Olaimutiai, one of the vibrant Maasai villages located a few metres from Masai Mara’s Sekenani gate.
Dances by morans light up the day as women get down to stitching beads for tourists who have spent the night in a manyatta.
The homestead is one of the many cultural centres reaping big as tourism peaks in Maasai Mara National Reserve. Tourists eager to witness the wildebeest migration have been camping in the area since last month.
The villages have their own special packages for tourists on a tight budget.
Even as hotels and lodges record full bookings during the high season, the villages have cut a niche for themselves with their exclusive offers and rich culture.
“It is one way of preserving our culture and also cashing in from the tourists visiting Maasai Mara. We charge Sh2,000 per night for dinner and bed inside the traditional manyatta,” said Steve Sang’are, who runs one of the manyattas.
Sang’are said his group had found a way of making money out of the tourism activities in the Mara, by offering accommodation to both local and foreign tourists.
“For those who cannot afford the rates charged by lodges and tented camps, they have an option in the manyattas,” he said, adding that not all the tourists can afford Sh19,000 to 50,000 per night.
Tourists who wish to spend an entire day within the manyatta pay more – Sh15,000 per head for a 24-hour stay.
On a typical day, tourists who spend a day in the Maasai villages, get to experience the culture of the locals. Men wear moran attire, while women are adorned in bridal clothes.
“For a full day package, a tourist gets to experience the culture. They are dressed up like morans or Maasai women. They wear brightly-coloured shawls, beads and even carry a spear and a sword. Men participate in slaughtering, drawing blood, grilling meat while women milk cows and fetch water from the stream. They also eat our food and look after the cattle,” said Nang’are.
The idea of hosting tourists in the Maasai villages outside the reserve has come in handy for tourists who want to experience the culture as well as those looking for alternative accommodation.
“During the high season, we usually receive between 10 and 20 tourists in a day, who spend the night in the manyattas. We also receive tourists who come to see the manyattas and experience our culture but are accommodated elsewhere. The visitors pay to get into the homesteads and also pay for demonstration of some activities, including the traditional way of lighting a fire, and to watch dances,” said James Nginai.
Besides offering accommodation packages, women groups also benefit from selling products in lodges and hotels within the reserve.
“I make between Sh15,000 and Sh20,000 per week selling beaded products within lodges in the park. These initiatives and partnerships with the lodges who give us a platform to sell our products directly has benefited us in many ways,” Josephine Pesi, a member of Ushanga Women Initiative, said.
Tourism, she said, is a lifeline to the communities in the area.
“We sell these products directly and a majority of us have managed to invest in other income generating activities as well as school our children. I have been in the business for more than 40 years now and my children have all gone to school through these initiatives,” Nayare Nongipa, the chair lady of Ushanga initiatives said.
Close to 100 women, according to Maasai Mara National Reserve administrator Christine Dabaash, have registered with groups.