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«Section 3: the cultural tourism experience 125 126 The commoditisation and commercialisation of the Maasai culture: will cultural Manyattas withstand ...»

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Cultural tourism in Africa:

strategies for the new millennium

Proceedings of the ATLAS Africa International Conference

December 2000, Mombasa, Kenya

Section 3:

the cultural tourism experience



The commoditisation and commercialisation of the Maasai

culture: will cultural Manyattas withstand the 21st century?

Nanda Ritsma

Stephen Ongaro

Moi University



African perceptions and cultural practices have undergone a remarkable transformation during the twentieth century. Not to be left behind, have been the apparently ardent traditional Maasai pastoralists. Initially, it appeared that only the educated and urbanised Maasai had changed their ways of life. However, the commencement of cultural manyattas has demonstrated that the hitherto pastoralists are now venturing into the tourism industry and in the process, diversifying their source of livelihood.

Cultural manyattas illustrate the changing force of tourism and its ability to transform societies. A money economy is gradually taking root and the benefits to be derived from the tourism industry shall soon be appreciated by a wider section of the community. Also, young children are gaining exposure to tourists at a tender age and might grow up aping some of their mannerisms. Already, the income generated from visits to cultural manyattas is being invested in the education of young children. Within the cultural manyattas also, the women have been able to organise themselves to make and sell traditional items and bead ware to the many visiting tourists.

Maasai culture, like any other culture, is a dynamic phenomenon that evolves to adapt to new circumstances and includes a set of values and practices that is associated with a particular way of life. The pastoral Maasai occupy arid and semi-arid rangelands in southern Kenya and northern Tanzania, collectively known as 'Maasailand'. They maintain a semi-nomadic pastoral lifestyle, which still seems to be close to their 'traditional' culture.

Through the establishment of wildlife conservation areas within their traditional grazing grounds in the 50s, displacement from ancestral land and the development of tourist safaris therein, Maasai are more and more forced to change their lifestyle. Looking for ways to benefit from the established nature parks and the tourists visiting these parks, the Maasai created cultural manyattas where they sell beadwork and other cultural artefacts. The establishment of cultural manyattas along the fringe of Amboseli National Park in southern Kenya (see figure 1) was especially meant to help marginalized groups of the Maasai community but a wide range of organizational problems hampers these cultural manyattas to reach this goal at the moment.

127 Figure 1: Amboseli National Park in Kenya (source: KWS) Establishment of the Amboseli National Park Shortly after thecommencement of British rule in Kenya at the end of the nineteenth century, the colonial government declared the Southern Game Reserve mainly to protect wildlife from hunting. This reserve covered nearly the whole Kenyan Maasailand from Nairobi in the north to the Tanzanian border in the south. The Maasai were not restricted in their movements in any direction. After World War II more protection was sought for the game and a special Ordinance enabled the colonial government to alienate land for the creation of game reserves and national parks. The Amboseli National Reserve was established in 1947, covering 3,260 km2. The boundaries were more or less arbitrary, the Maasai were not prohibited from entering the reserve for grazing, watering and settlement. Amboseli is named after a dry lake basin adjacent to the northern slopes of the highest mountain of Africa, Mt. Kilimanjaro. The basin of approximately 1,000 km2 is fed by permanent springs from this mountain and is the centre of a much larger ecosystem. Both wildlife and livestock migrate in essentially the same pattern between wet and dry season pastures.

Efforts by the new post-colonial central government to gazette the whole of the Game Reserve or at least the 600 km2 core area of the basin as a national park failed as the Maasai resisted this. But after long negotiations the Maasai finally agreed to accept the creation of a national park measuring 488 km2 in 1974. Later, after detaching a part of the swamp from the park to give the pastoralists adequate dry season pastures, the Park area was reduced to the current 392 km2. The Maasai are prohibited from entering the Park with their herds whereas wildlife is permitted to roam freely over the whole dry and wet season dispersal area (Vorlaufer, 1997). This state of affairs has resulted in a human-wildlife conflict. Wildlife disperses onto the group ranches during the wet season only to retreat to the perennial water springs in the National Park during the dry season.

Migration of wildlife from the Park to the surrounding group ranches seems to be essential in the survival of wildlife and, in the end, the Park in itself. Together with the expansion of agriculture and a growing human population, increasing competition for grazing ground with cattle and destruction of crops exists. The increasing reports on destruction of crops and 128 cases of human and animal loss through wildlife led to the building of game-proof electric fences around two agricultural areas near Amboseli National Park in 1997 (Community Warden ANP). Before the fences where built, until 1989, it was possible to obtain a compensation fee if crops, livestock or human beings were mauled by wildlife (GoK, 1989).

At the moment Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) states that it is not responsible for payment of property compensation, that is crops or livestock. Since 1997, African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) pays consolation money for loss of cattle through wildlife on three group ranches surrounding the national park (Olgulului Lolarashi, Kimana Tikondo and Eselengei group ranches). The Kenyan treasury disburses compensation for personal injury or death (GoK, 1989).

After Kenyan independence in 1963 the conservation policy concerning Amboseli was closely connected with the implementation of the group ranch concept. It involved the setting aside of a certain area of land, communally owned by a group of Maasai families, within which livestock movements are expected to be confined. This group ranch policy is deeply embedded in the Constitution of Kenya, which at section 115 provides for trust lands vested in local government authorities. Some parcels of such trust lands have been adjudicated and allocated to private individuals, who have in turn acquired title to such land. Consequently, agricultural farmers have been introduced into the Amboseli ecosystem resulting in the emergence of a new form of land use replacing pastoralism (Berger, 1996). The majority of pastoralists no longer have the land nor flexibility of movement to support themselves from their livestock alone and this results in the adoption of other means of livelihood. One of the obvious options for the Maasai living around Amboseli NP was to get involved in tourism activities. Especially with the growing number of tourists to the park in the 80s, reaching its peak in 1990 with 237,200 visitors, after which a decline was set in to 117,200 in 1997, (Government of Kenya, economic survey, 1998), tourism offered a possible alternative way of meeting their livelihood.

Following the establishment of a national reserve, hunters with the help of colonial administrators, established the first safari camps. Hunters came to the Amboseli area in search of adventure and trophies (Berger, 1996). When the reserve became a protected area, hunting tourism was replaced by wildlife-based tourism and the safari camps for hunters became luxurious lodges for tourists on game watching safaris.

Over the years, the ‘picture’ used by tour operators to promote the Amboseli area did not change much. The tour operator markets the Amboseli National Park in Kenya as the place with the most beautiful view on the highest mountain in Africa, the Kilimanjaro. It is also the National Park in which one can find large numbers of elephants and the land where the Maasai people live. It is not only the tourism industry but also nature documentaries and books that helped to promote Amboseli National Park all over the world. And thus, when tourists visit the foot of the Kilimanjaro in southern Kenya, they want to see Maasai. They want to see Ilmoran (young Maasai warriors) with long ochre dyed and plaited hair wearing Maasai blankets together with their lion hunting equipment (spears,clubs and knives) and Maasai women decorated with beads and a child on their back in their traditional habitat.

Tourists not only want to see the Maasai but also want to immortalise the experience by taking their pictures or filming them in addition to tangible souvenirs to remind them of the encounter.

Increasing numbers of Maasai are benefiting from tourism. The sale of handicraft and other cultural paraphernalia have drawn people to settle near the National Park where they can 129 supplement their livelihood with some money earned from tourism. Efforts by the local Maasai people to earn from tourism are exemplified by the 'cultural manyattas' visited by tourists (Berger, 1996).

Organisation of cultural Manyattas in the Amboseli area Cultural manyattas have been established along the fringe of the boundary between Olgulului Lolarashi and Kimana Tikondo group ranches and Amboseli National Park. A manager of one of the lodges located in the Amboseli area mooted the idea under the Maasai living in the area. As he saw Maasai women coming to the lodge to sell beadwork, he developed the idea to build a special Maasai homestead where tourists could come to visit, hear and experience Maasai culture. The local community took advantage of this idea and agreed that their women should generate money out of tourism by establishing a central market to sell their beadwork. The generated money would go to the individual families and community projects.

The idea of developing cultural manyattas around Amboseli National Park was later encouraged by KWS by a new policy of Kenya Wildlife Service in 1996 (KWS, 1996), which sought to promote partnership and community participation in wildlife conservation and tourism by the Maasai community. The income out of small enterprises like cultural manyattas should give the Maasai an incentive to conserve wildlife.

Where as before 1994, the group ranches surrounding the Amboseli NP (Kimana Tikondo, Olgulului Lolorashi and Kuku) each had one cultural manyatta, the establishment of cultural manyattas developed kind of uncontrolled after that. At the moment there are seven cultural manyattas operating along the border of Amboseli National Park (see figure 2) of which three are being established on Olgulului Lolorashi group ranch in the year 2000.

Figure 2: cultural manyattas along the southern border of Amboseli National Park

The organisation structure of the cultural manyattas is based on the way group ranches are organized. Members of the cultural manyatta elect the management committee, comprising of a chairman, secretary and treasurer together with a number of committee members. This committee manages the Maasai cultural manyatta. To become a member of the cultural manyatta, one is required to pay a registration fee.

To start a cultural manyatta at the group ranch, Maasai have to consult with the leaders of the group ranch and the chief of the area. The initiator first has to find a group of people with 130 whom he can construct a cultural manyatta and has to determine where to build the cultural manyatta. The group then seeks the consent of the group ranch officials and area chief after which the cultural manyatta is officially registered as a co-operative, or as a partnership at the Attorney General’s Chambers. Another alternative is to get a certificate of the Ministry of Culture and Social Service. When this all is done, the interested parties are free to establish a cultural manyatta at the approved site.

The men will start with fencing off the site with branches of the acacia tree, while the women will build the igloo-shaped houses along the inside of fence. For example, four members may build one (cow) dung-baked hut, resulting in several huts forming a traditional Maasai homestead. The four members of the cultural manyatta alternate occupancy of the hut, for example, each week, after which another one of the four members stays in the hut taking care of the hut and selling the beadwork as though it was her real abode. Members, who are present when tourists visit the manyatta, welcome them and represent the 'residents' of the homestead.

Although women themselves did not have an active role in initiating the idea of cultural manyattas, their men decided that women would do the core business. The cultural manyattas offer Maasai women a chance to benefit from tourism development in line with the Maasai ‘cultural conduct policy’: approved by their men and tasks in line with activities in their daily life. Women are playing an active and visible role at the cultural manyatta’s market, with stalls allocated to several individual women displaying their cultural artefacts for sale. Of the artefacts sold, Maasai women make the beadwork, which include necklaces and bracelets and decorating key holders and belts with beads. Other artefacts offered for sale at the market are obtained from the men folk and include spears, clubs and knives. Also, business people from outside the cultural manyatta (in most cases these are souvenir merchants from Nairobi) supply non-Maasai artefacts such as woodcarvings, which are popular with tourists.

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