The Maasai Culture And Ecological Adaptations

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The Rift Valley in East Africa has been the home of pastoralists for over three thousand years. A number of different tribes migrated to Kenya, grouped by language they include the Cushites derived from Southern Ethiopia, the Nilotes, which include the Maasai, from Southern Sudan, and the Bantu. The Maa speaking people are the group from which the Maasai originated; their expansion southward into the Great Rift Valley began about 400 years ago. The second stage of Maasai expansion involved the emergence of a central Maasai alliance as well as the expansion and differentiation out of the Central Rift Valley. There are numerous Maasai tribes, and we will be primarily discussing the Arusha and Central Maasai.

Environmental Aspects

The Maasai live throughout north central Tanzania and southern Kenya. Kenya Maasailand is presently located near the coast in the Narok and Kajiado districts. The territory in 1981 measured approximately 39,476 square kilometers. Details on the environment in this area are necessary in order to understand the Maasai people who depend upon it for their survival. The region is typical of arid and semi-arid lands. The Maasailand area has an extremely low amount of surface water, and shallow alkaline soils which proves to be a difficult problem for their cattle-raising practices, and the main reason why they have adapted pastoralism rather than agriculture. The amount of rainfall varies greatly (usually less than 500 mm a year) , with occasional violent storms erupting. The location of the rain may be very specific, effecting a very small area without touching a nearby location. The amount of rainfall fluctuates every year and droughts are frequent. The Maasai have adapted to their living co...

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