Climate changing culture

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by Cynthia Vukets on January 27, 2010

This herd of 25 cattle used to be 500. The lack of water and grass brought on by the drought has killed off up to 90 per cent of Maasai herds.

This herd of 25 cattle used to be 500. The lack of water and grass brought on by the drought has killed off up to 90 per cent of Maasai herds.

Lucy Nkoiroshishe is down to five cows. It’s not so bad for her and her husband, because they both have jobs in town.
But for the rest of their Maasai community, the loss of nearly 90 per cent of cattle herds has been devastating.
A prolonged drought has hit East African farmers and pastoralists hard. Many in Northern Kenya are now dependent on food aid from the government and international community to survive.
In Southern Kenya, next to the Tanzanian border, Maasai herders are beginning to drive their cattle home from the neighbouring country. They’d crossed the border last year to search for pasture and water.
Standing at a surface dam in Magadi Division, about one hour off the paved road, Lucy gestures towards a herd of about 25 cattle.
“That used to be a herd of over 500,” she says.

The Maasai are probably one of the most famous tribes in Africa due to their distinctive height, the red “shukas” they wear and their reputation for being able to walk for days without food and water.
Donkeys and goats are the only animals to have survived in any number here in Magadi

Donkeys and goats are the only animals to have survived in any number here in Magadi

And of the 90 cattle that left from her family, only five came home.
They are also famous for their cattle. In Kenya, it is commonly said that a Maasai man would rather die than see harm come to one of his herd.
So where does that leave this tribe? Without their main source of livelihood, the Maasai have been forced to turn to other ways of making money and ensuring their children are fed and schooled.
Some have started burning charcoal to sell, which means cutting down trees – already scarce enough in Maasailand – and burning the wood until it becomes suitable for use in traditional charcoal cookers.
NTV cameraman Robert Gichira shoots Magadi's community dam - one of the projects the Maasai have been forced to undertake because of the drought

NTV cameraman Robert Gichira shoots Magadi's community dam - one of the projects the Maasai have been forced to undertake because of the drought


Others have taken up farming. But the lifestyle doesn’t suit them, Elijah Metian tells me. He’s the counselor for this area and while he dresses in “clothes” (that’s what the Maasai call anything other than shuka. When I met Lucy she laughed and said “It’s rare for you to find me in clothes”) he sports the traditional pierced ears and facial scarification of his tribe.
“We are a polygamous culture,” he says. “Without our cattle, we can’t afford to take care of our wives and children.”
So there goes one aspect of the culture due to the drought brought on by climate change.
What else?
Elijah Metian, Magadi's counsellor, at the community dam

Elijah Metian, Magadi's counsellor, at the community dam

“The Maasai are proud of their cattle,” he explains. “Without them, the men are feeling really low.”
And if a strong male head of household isn’t an essential part of Maasai, and African, culture, I don’t know what is.
But does he think the farming is a good idea?
“For many families, it will take up to 10 years to build back the herds they lost,” he says. So in that time, parents have to do something to feed their children.
“We need to adapt,” says Lucy over a meal of roast goat meat at her manyatta. She also keeps a house in town, but comes here several times a week to check in on her goats and her neighbours.
She comes by foot because the winding road takes too long. That’s an 18-kilometre walk alone, often in the dark. At least some things will never change.

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Climate changing culture | Lowdown Online | Kenya today
01.27.10 at 8:53 am

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