When I told my sister that we would see Maasai, I thought she was going to cry. She really wanted to see them. She asked, do you think we can trade with them? I remember when I went to a Maasai village in 1983 in Kenya, the inhabitants wanted our film canisters to make ear rings. The village was not “sanitized” (I’ll explain that later). This village was the real deal. Cow dung all over, flies every where, and poverty. I explained to my sister that what she should expect is to pay them money to take their pictures. And that we did have to do. The Maasai believe that if their picture is taken, you, as the photographer, have already taken their blood. Yes, that may be but they’ve also decided that by charging for pictures, it’s a great money maker. But the modern Maasai have also decided that they are tired of business entities using their name so “they” (that’s the real problem. Who is “they”?) are looking into trademarking the name “Maasai”. There are already major brands using the name “Maasai” as part of their product lines i.e. Land Rover using the name for accessories for their vehicles, a running shoe carries the name as well as a line from Louie Vuitton. If the Maasai are successful, it would be the largest cultural brand in the world. I would equate this to the US government allowing Indian reservations to have casinos and sell tax free cigarettes. A windfall for the Maasai.
Our first camp, Tarangire Treetops, is a member of the Elewana collection. They have 8 lodges/camps throughout Tanzania, Kenya and Zanzibar. We stayed in 4. Treetops is located in the heart of the Maasai territory. So while driving in we see their herds, primarily goats and cattle. At one point we did see a child, about 5 or 6 with a small stick in his hand, herding baby goats. Would have loved to take a picture but not allowed. An iconic picture would have been of a tall Maasai wrapped in a scarlet blanket standing against a baobab tree. No picture. A little while later a young herder, about 14 or 15, runs toward our Land Rover and stops us to ask for a bottle of water. No picture. The lodge of Treetops has negotiated with the Maasai to allow the camp to exist in their territory and the lodge will then hire the Maasai for work around the lodge. We had an excellent bar-b-q within a boma (what we call a corral but made with limbs and brush) and the Maasai performed a wonderful dance and song for us. Pictures allowed. As well as video…which, of course, I have.