Zanzibar. The Serengeti. Mount Kilimanjaro. These are the first things that come to mind when I hear Tanzania. All of these are extraordinary experiences, yet when I arrived, I sought to find the most unique places to visit in Tanzania. I turned to Google and typed “cultural tourist attractions in Tanzania,” but still didn’t find anything that stood out. Then suddenly I received a text from my friend Martha:
“Kesi! Just met this girl, Ebone, at Soho House that you would love. She was just in Tanzania, and I’m giving you her number so you can get all the recommendations from her.”
Jackpot! (The best travel suggestions always come from friends.) I messaged this mystery woman, and will be forever grateful! She introduced me to one of the most culturally immersive experiences I’ve ever had–an authentic Maasai village visit. And yes – I am talking about a real authentic Maasai village visit rather than one that tour companies promote.
A Maasai Village Visit Does Not Have To Be a People Museum
Every guide around Arusha offers the option to add a Maasai tour to a safari package. Maasai tourism is popular, and I understand the desire to visit a distinctive group of people and learn about Maasai traditions. Yet I’m always hesitant to go on an organized tour to visit a tribal village because I don’t want it to feel like a human zoo.
On my blog, I strive to share experiences that are authentic and as local as possible. Visiting an African tribe for a couple of hours to witness a choreographed show or watch staged Maasai rituals purely to entertain tourists is too contrived for my liking. I don’t judge individuals who support Maasai tours if it is bringing money to the Maasai communities, yet I prefer a different style of traveling.
But alas – There is a way to have an authentic Maasai village visit!
Maasai Homestay Quick Facts
Location: Loiborsoit, Tanzania
Days Needed: 2 to 3
Estimated Cost: $40 USD
Value: 10/10: Off the beaten path and authentic cultural exchange
Who Are These Maasai People?
The Maasai Tribe is one of the most well known in Africa since many African brochures feature them, and Maasai Tribe clothing is distinctive. Nonetheless, if you asked me to list Maasai Tribe facts, I would be at a loss. Heck – if you asked me “Where do the Maasai live” I would’ve failed. I ignorantly assumed they all lived in Kenya and had no idea the tribe extended into Tanzania. But once I landed in Tanzania, it became apparent that the Maasai Tribe culture permeates throughout the country.
False First Impressions: Meeting “Fake” Maasai in Zanzibar
While in Zanzibar, there were tons of men dressed in Maasai clothing. I thought it was pretty cool that there were so many Maasai people, until I discovered that most of these men were “fake” Maasai. There are several theories on why people dress up like Maasai:
1) To take advantage of tourists – You’ll find many fakes on the Zanzibar beaches who share false Maasai warrior stories of fighting lions, but in reality, they just want to get your attention so they can sell you things or charge for photos.
2) To get girls! No joke – It’s a way to impress Western ladies! Maasai men are known for being superior sexual partners. On a night out in Zanzibar, it’s common to see a western woman locking lips with a guy dressed like Maasai – so it works!
3) Because they think it’s cool – The life and customs of Maasai are fascinating; therefore some individuals appropriate the culture because they want to.
P.S – You can find some real Maasai in Zanzibar. Hint: if the guy is drinking alcohol, or wearing really stylish sunglasses, probably a fake Maasai.
Want to know what a real Maasai man thinks of imposter? Check out my interview with Tobico in the Local Lingo section of my blog.
After interacting with many fake Maasai, by the time I left Zanzibar I wanted to understand what it really meant to be a Maasai warrior and learn true Maasai facts.
5 Reasons Why You Should Book a Maasai Village Visit with Tobico
I am thankful that via a random text message I was introduced to Tobico and his family. This is the most culturally immersive experience I’ve had while abroad. Here are 5 reasons why I encourage you to book a homestay with Tobico:
1) Support local entrepreneurship – Tobico is college educated, but there were few job opportunities when he graduated. He has decided to become an entrepreneur and start his own tour company, which offers an authentic Maasai tribal visit.
2) It’s a genuine cultural exchange – The foundation of Tobico’s business started with Tobico hosting people via Couchsurfing. He googled, “How to make friends,” and was introduced to the Couchsurfing app. The primary mission of Couchsurfing is to share cultures between the host and the guest. Tobico and I were around the same age and he had as many questions for me as I did for him. It was interesting getting to learn about one another and to experience Maasai life. Even though Tobico charges for the homestay experience, the origin started with the idea of making new international friends.
3) Money goes directly to Tobico and his family – there is no middle man or tour operator, so all the money that you pay for the homestay directly supports Tobico and his family.
4) Complete Immersive Experience – booking a homestay is a different experience than visiting an African tribe for a couple hours. By staying for one or two nights, you get a better understanding of the way of life in the village. There is no Wi-Fi, limited electricity, and little cell phone reception. It was nice to be disconnected from devices that I’m usually attached to and to immerse myself into the Maasai community fully.
5) Cheaper than organized tours – an organized tour would charge $40-$100 for a one hour visit. Tobico charges a fair price depending on how many nights you stay, which covers the cost of food and accommodation.
To find out more about Tobico and his life, check out my interview with him in the Local Lingo section of this website.
My Experience Couchsurfing For Two Days in Loiborsoit
Ok, now that you understand why you should go on a Maasai village visit with Tobico, let me explain how the actual encounter was.
Tobico met us in the center of Arusha so he could show us the way to his village, which was 3 hours away. We opted to pay for a private driver since it wasn’t too much money and would save time and comfort. As we started our journey, we had no idea what to expect.
When we arrived in Loiborsoit, we weren’t greeted by some dance, like other tours do, but were casually introduced to family and friends living their daily life. It was clear that the rest of the Maasai village was unaccustomed to visitors. I could feel all of the stares.
I was only the third westerner that Tobico has met.
Tobico has a cute, two-year-old daughter who immediately started crying when she saw my friend Jordan and me. She could tell we were foreigners and didn’t belong and was scared of us. I thought since we were black we would fit in, but since we were light-skinned, wore different clothes, and had different accents we still stood out. In fact, every time she saw us for the next two days, she would hide behind her mom and start crying.
The best way to describe my experience is via all the photos I captured:
These were the two wives and their kids that lived at the property. The hut behind us was the kitchen, where the wives would cook over fire. Tobico’s child is giving a fierce look to the camera. I don’t think she was too happy being so close to me, as a stranger.
Luckily, not all the kids were scared of me. Look how bright this child’s face was. He was always full of giggles and smiles and was fun to play with.
On the second day, Tobico and his wife, Namnyaki, dressed us up in traditional clothing. There were more layers than expected. The Maasai are proud of their clothing and heritage. I asked Tobico if he had a choice between normal street wear or their traditional garb while walking around Arusha; he confidently said he would choose the Maasai clothing.
The Kraal is the hut where the Maasai live. Since the Maasai are nomadic and migrate with their cattle, their temporary homes are reasonably easy to make. All the materials used to create the hut are natural. Each wife has her own Kraal, and all the huts together make up a Boma.
I travel with a scrubba bag to do my laundry. We compared and contrasted who had the better method for washing clothes. Tobico is fortunate to have a water hose on his property. Most people do not have a water source and have to walk to a well to get water.
Tobico and his friend, Lazaro, took us on a walk around his land. Tobico was very proud of all the land he owned. Unfortunately, most of it could not be used for farming. He said the primary issue was lack of water. To sustain the farm, he needed to invest in a proper irrigation system, but he did not currently have the money to make such an investment.
Tobico explained that their shoes were made of tires, which he said are very economical and last for 5 years. They are also suitable for getting around if it rains. Jordan was wearing Rainbows and she was slipping everywhere when we were walking around, so the tire shoes were more effective.
This is the inside of the Kraal. There is one bed for the kids and one for the wife. This small space is meant for cooking, sleeping, and socializing. The mother that lived here was nice and fixed us a snack of hot porridge. You can also see Jordan and myself decked out in our new Maasai jewelry.
Namnyaki, Tobico’s wife, would bring us tea, and we would gather around this table to talk about each other’s lives. It amazed me that I was in the middle of nowhere in Tanzania, yet was still able to have meaningful conversations in English. The older generation didn’t speak English, but the younger generation was pretty fluent.
I guess I should thank British colonialism? That sounds so wrong to write, but one of the reasons why East Africa is my favorite part of the world to travel is because I can have significant conversations with locals in English. For example, if I were in Thailand, it would be impossible to have a similar interaction.
Leaving on local bus – we took the transportation many Maasai men and women make each day into Arusha. It’s necessary for the Maasai to make this commute in order to work and provide for their families.
Africans sure know how to pack a car. When there was no more space inside the vehicle, people hopped on the roof and stayed there for the 3-hour ride into the city. it’s necessary to squeeze because there are only so many cars that make the drive back and forth.
And yes – those are feet dangling from the roof in the picture to the right.
What I Learned About Maasai Culture
Spending two nights in Loiborsoit, I picked up on different things about Maasai culture.
- Extremely Patriarchal – The male and female dynamic was apparent. The wives always cooked and served us tea, while we talked to the men of the household at the table. We never ate breakfast or lunch with the wives, as they sat separately. The wives would take care of the kids, and from an outsider perspective seemed to be valued less than the man. I did not want to question the dynamics because I didn’t want to be insensitive, but I wondered if the wives were happy in their traditional roles.
- Cows are currency – the Maasai are a nomadic tribe, whose lifestyle is heavily impacted by their livestock. If there is no more grass for the cows than it is time to move to the next place so the cows can keep eating. When a man wants to marry, he must pay the father of the bride in cows. The more cows one has, the wealthier they are.
- The Maasai women create beautiful jewelry – I bought several necklaces and earrings from the Maasai women. The Maasai jewelry design is one of my favorites. I’m upset I did not buy more, because when I traveled throughout the rest of the continent, I could not find any similar jewelry.
- Maasai marriages are Polygamous – it is common for a man to have several wives. When we visited Tobico’s mother in her home, there were two other homes on the same boma for the other wives. The Maasai man is financially responsible for all of his wives. Tobico only had one wife and did not express interest in finding another.
- Not a lot of opportunities – In the village, there are not many ways to make money. Some men and women wake up at the crack of down and travel 3 hours into the central city, Arusha, to try to make money and come back to the village at night. Tobiko, who is college educated, explained that he has tried to find a job but has been unsuccessful.
- More modern than expected – I assumed that Maasai people, living in the outskirts, would not be interested in social media, but Facebook and smartphones have allowed the Maasai to stay connected with the outside world. I still chat to Tobico and some of his friends from time to time on Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp. It does not matter how isolated a village is; with the Internet everyone remain in touch.
- All electricity is from solar power. The Maasai have to take advantage of natural resources, and get all their energy from the sun.
Overall, spending time in Loiborsoit was a unique and telling adventure.
Tobico wants to replicate the experience I had with others. If you are interested in booking a homestay experience, please connect with Tobico on his facebook page and have the best Maasai tourism experience.
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