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The Maasai are now digital

 The Maasai Community present their dance during Mashujaa Day celebrations in 2022. [Silas Otieno, Standard]

As a tribe that has preserved most aspects of its culture, from dressing to customs, the Maasai are one of the most recognizable tribes from Kenya, often used as a symbol of Kenya’s culture. Curious people looking to learn more about the famous tribe are now in luck, thanks to Google Arts & Culture (GA &C), which has unveiled an online exhibition dubbed ‘Maasai: Wisdom of a Community’, that shines a light on the community, both from Kenya and Tanzania.

The GA &C project includes five exhibits about the Maasai community and legends by the National Museums of Kenya, enabling audiences from across the world to learn more about the community’s rich cultural heritage through over 430 high resolution images and 55 exhibits.

Speaking on the exhibition, ourism CS Peninah Malonza says that the online exhibition is an immersive experience into the heritage and wisdom of one of Africa’s most resilient and iconic communities - the Maasai.

“This body of work is yet another demonstration of how collaborating on digital transformation is making Kenya’s culture and heritage universally accessible while preserving it for future generations and driving greater interest in tourism,” she says.

The online archive is an immersive, beautiful visual experience, with high-resolution images, into the world of the Maasai. It provides visitors with different ways to get to know more about the Maasai including learning to speak and count in Maa, the Maasai language, through audio-narrated stories that guide you through the Maasai way of life. The exhibition also walks you through sustainable architecture practices and the symbolism behind the colours and patterns of Maasai jewellery and the history behind the material of Maasai jewellery.

“The online exhibition gives a glimpse into the livelihoods, architecture, craftsmanship, jewellery, folklore, language, mythology and rituals as practised by the Maasai community. “I invite you to discover more about the Maasai in East Africa, and learn about their legendary Maasai warriors, Senteu, Mbatian, and Lenana,” says Agnes Gathaiya, The Country Director for Google in Eastern Africa.

“From the iconic red of their Shuka cloth, to their ‘adumu’ dance ritual (a leaping dance performed by the Maasai Moran warriors), the Maasai community has lived in East Africa for hundreds of years. People from all over the world have been curious to explore their way of living and we’re excited to be able to showcase their heritage on our Google Arts & Culture platform.”

The project, commissioned by Google Arts & Culture and Project Fuel, a non-profit working with local communities and the National Museums of Kenya, includes 7 exhibits on Maasai folklore and mythology as well as 29 illustrations completed by Indian artist Advithi Emmi.

The ultimate goal is to preserve Kenya’s rich history digitally for current and future generations.

“The National Museums of Kenya holds objects telling the stories of the communities, which represent the country’s ethnic diversity and vibrant cultures. Many of the cultural practices are still embraced today, but have been influenced by the changes in society. The exhibit celebrates the country’s rich heritage through the Maasai community,” reads part of the exhibition.

This exhibition is the latest on the platform which gives access to the treasures, stories and knowledge of over 2000 cultural institutions from 80 countries, ranging from Kenya’s communities and their superheroes, Nigerian food, the creative scene in Lagos, Nelson Mandela and South Africa’s breathtaking nature.

Another project ‘Utamaduni Wetu: Meet the People of Kenya’, resulted in the collection of information and digitisation of images of 28 superheroes representing 14 communities and has since been expanded to include superheroes of all Kenya’s 44 communities.

The superheroes, whose stories are now preserved, include Abdulla the mad Mulla, Mekatilili wa Menza - the wonder woman of the Giriama community, the Abba Gadas - who are the core of the ancient Borana leadership system,  Luanda Magere - the story of the great Luo warrior, Queen Amanirenas - the story of the White Nile Nubi Archeress and other Kenyan heroes of old.

It has seen over 1.6 million hits in under a year after the launch in October of 2020. The hits are from all over the world, with a large number from Kenya, the US and the UK.

Preserving the past enables us to preserve our future, according to Dr Fredrick Manthi, Director Antiquities, Sites and Monuments, and Senior Paleontologist at the National Museums of Kenya (NMK).

“We have done quite a bit. This is a process that never ends. We have over a million collections at NMK and we do a lot of research, so this is a journey whose end you cannot determine, since every year, people go out to the field for research and new collections keep come up,” says Dr Manthi.


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