An audio-visual documentation of the rich Maasai heritage with stories from Maasai women, and a boundless future.
The Maasai people are one of the few tribes in Kenya that until now, maintain their traditional culture and way of life.
They are mainly pastoralists with large herds of cattle.
They originally have a nomadic way of life; and many places in Kenya have their names from Maasai origin eg ‘Nairobi’ comes from the Maa word ‘Narobi’ meaning ‘cold’ (cold waters)
Due to effects of colonization, and climate change, the Maasai way of life has changed with time and most of them are now in settled homesteads and practice agriculture too.
We wanted to find out more about their way of life by engaging some of the women from Twala Tenebo women village in a series of conversations about the following topics :
-The history and design of the manyatta (the Maasai homesteads)
-The Maasai culture; what’s good what’s not?’ according to them
-Maasai diet, methods of cooking, food & kitchen rituals
-Maasai accessories - beaded jewellery & dresses
-Climate change & permaculture
To have a limitless future, we must learn from our past traditions. This is exactly what the performance art piece created afterwards portrays. We were empowered with the knowledge gained from these conversations & experiences to create art that is boundless, and enriched with our ancestral wisdom.
We collected sounds within the manyatta; including the birds chirping, milking cows, women chatting and singing ….
We also 3d scanned the manyattas, objects around the space, the village women and the performers.
These assets were used to create an immersive interactive experience that can be experienced in VR.
(click for more information)
theme was 'Where We Live'; an exchange of information that connects our senses and environments.
The festival was a two day expression (and two week exhibition) of the community's minds, bodies, neighbourhoods, global, and online spaces, that took place in April.
Rounded rectangular structures with flat-topped roof. The walls are made of twigs held together with cow-dung. It stands out as an eco-friendly minimalist building.
'You see, for a woman sitting under a tree, you watch the way the birds make their nests. And then you ask yourself, if a bird can use its beak to make a nest, why can’t I with both hands not build one?
The first woman must have learned from the birds and challenging herself by going to cut poles, sharpening, and making a house.'
Joyce Mamai (60 y/o)
The Maasai women build the homes, and hence, each house takes the height of the woman.
The cowdung cools the temperature and also acts as a natural insecticide.
The manyatta is the homestead, which has huts arranged in a circle around a cattle kraal.
A hut is called 'Enkaji'
The huts are aerodynamically designed to resist high winds, and the manyatta thicket boundary acts as a defensive barrier.
'These are the houses we Maasais have had since we were young. When you build your house, you plaster with cow dung, then raise the bed. Before we didn’t have beds. We slept on a cow hide on the floor.
Then it came a time when we knew how to make the beds. We kept asking ourselves why should we sleep on the floor? We then decided to cut poles, fix them on the ground, plastered the bed the same way we plaster the house then put a cow hide on top and the house became nice.
We also made a fireplace using three stones which was used for cooking food. And with a cooking pot, we could cook anything even ugali. We also milked our cows and drank milk. You collect the milk in a gourd and either drink it or use it for cooking food such as kiteke.(maize flour)
Before we did not have cooking pots, we only had gourds and cow hide. We didn’t boil milk. For cups, we used some lids that we made from cow hide. But currently we have both cooking pots and cups because we discovered about them.
We used our gourds to fetch water. I used the animal’s hide to make something similar to a cooking pot which we used as basins. We used a certain tree called Osarai to make soap. We even used urine from cows to wash our hands.
The maasai people are hailed as one of the few traditional Kenyan tribes to have maintained their traditions over time. While there is a lot to be appreciated about this way of life, there are also some aspects that are misogynistic.
'It is at Twala that I learnt Female Genital Mutilation and early child marriages is not a good practice.
It is where I also learnt it is not good if a man or your husband lays hands on you.
I also learnt it is good when a woman is independent and empowered and she is not only depending on her husband.'
Cecelia Naimado(35 y'o)
I love putting on our traditional attires and beads. I know a lot of beadwork. I make various necklaces and attires using beads which I then wear them.
I love our livelihood and that is why I have livestock.
As a maasai woman, I take care of livestock, build a house, if I feel my house is old, I build another one. I take care of my home, I do beadwork and take care of my children as well as fetch water and firewood.
I was married as a very young girl. We were circumcised at the age of either 13 or 14 or thereabout
Even before I healed properly, my dad had found a husband for me. He did not inform me. When the man came I was asked if I want him. I said no. I was told whether I want him or not he is my husband and if I refused I would be beaten.
During a ceremony when a cow is slaughtered, there is meat for old men, morans, boys, women and girls.
There is meat cooked in the forest by morans and those cooked at home by women.
The neck is for boys, backbone for girls, and leg parts for men. The rest of the animal part is cooked and shared equally among people at the ceremony.'
Monica Mamai; 28 yrs-old.
The maasai are pastoralists who keep cattle.
'When we were young girls there was no maize flour or tea leaves. We went to the forest and got herbs that we used as tea leaves. We drank milk and ate meat when an animal was slaughtered.
When we had ceremonies, a cow would be slaughtered. During the ceremony we would eat meat, drink milk and blood. Meat was either roasted, cooked in blood or cooked with animal’s fat.
Old women cooked the various types of meat and stored them properly. One would eat small amounts of meat, drink blood and milk. One would walk for long distances after eating them since they would make you so full.
Girls were taught how to cook at the age of 10. Warriors would not cook. They would slaughter in the forest and bring meat for us to cook.
Long ago we went far to fetch firewood. We now have fire in our houses. In Twala women group we have learnt and discovered various sources of getting fire used for cooking. We now sell our beadworks and use money to buy gas or jiko (charcoal burner).
We now plant vegetables in our homes, which we no longer buy.'
These necklaces and bangles would move with their body movement as they walked, and make musical jingly sounds. This was spectacular when they danced!
The material is small stone-like plastic beads that they buy in bulk from the market.
'As Maasais we do a lot of beadwork, yet we did not have beads long ago. We used seeds ...and cowrie shells, of which we didn’t know their origin though we got them from Indians. We also used bones and plastics.'
Jennifer Pere(45 yrs)
This is a cow’s hide. I have shaped into this design and now using this wire and beads to create a pattern. I use this needle to make a small hole into the hide.
We start teaching girls from the age of 13 on how to do beadwork. Girls as young as 8 can do simple designs like chains.
In the past, as Maasais we loved using red-coloured beads but now we have some developments.
Over time, new designs have emerged through their interactions with other tribes like the Samburu & Pokot, and through client’s suggesting new designs.
They also tend to explore new ways of making the jewellery.
During a wedding ceremony, it is important that the bride be adorned in many layers of the beaded necklaces, as this is a sign of beauty and abundance.
'Long ago men were the only ones owning beehives, we now can own them too.'
Susan Noorkilo; 32 yrs old
Land has become too scarce to support a nomadic lifestyle.
This is due to climate change and land being closed off as ranches.
The women at Twala Tenebo have developed a sustainable way of life, despite the semi-arid climate experienced there.
They grow aloe-vera and keep bees for honey. They use these to generate income for themselves.
Aloe Vera has also helped reduce soil erosion during heavy rainfalls. Secondly we get money that we use to educate our children.
We no longer do batter trade with men who would give us a goat and we give them aloe Vera.
We now sell to them so we can get money to educate our children
The flowers from the aloe Vera provides nectar for the bees hence we also get honey.
The bees also prevent elephants from invading the aloe farms.
During the holidays, we take our children to the farm to see and appreciate what it is we do.
This year, they plan on starting to make lotion and soap from the aloe, and selling them.
There’s a lot of wild cacti growing there. They use this cacti to run their biogas, which makes food in the kitchen.
Empowering women from pastoral communities.
A word from Rose Nenini, manager of Twala Tenebo Women village.
THe PeRFoRMaNce aRT
There is a recurring theme in Maasai folklore whereby women are given certain privileges but end up being stripped of them (examples: The legend of the sun and moon, and the legend about why women don't own cattle)
This concept was formulated with the intention of both reclaiming the past and imagining a better future, where women in the Maasai community are seen as peers and equals to the men in their community.
With women being allowed to explore their full potential as leaders, warriors and thinkers, their communities undergo a lot of advancement.
The Maasai women love to express themselves through what they wear, sing and dance.
We were highly inspired by all the stories, information and activities with them.
She holds the highest position of authority in her community.
Shape language: Her silhouette and accessories feature a lot of equilateral triangles. This symbolizes her stability and reliability, as well as her dynamism. She’s sharp and pragmatic.
Her costume contains cow symbolism.She’s the custodian of her people’s wealth as they trust her with their most important asset - their cows.
The Enkoiboni is connected with the earth. They ensure abundance in the community through the power of Maasai rich culture.
The Maasai believe that they have the power to talk to God directly. Through a ritual of spraying freshly got milk in the direction of the mountain, and uttering the words they want to happen.
Main features: Metallic bull-shaped corset with a large tulle skirt. Oracle’s staff. Triangular glasses and jewelry.
Inspired by the eco-friendly way of living by the Maasai people, the Enkayukoni is a healer. She connects the people with divine medicine.
She comes from a lineage of great medicine-women who learnt the secrets of the Earth.
She manifests power through a connection with nature and a belief in one-self.
Shape language: Her outfit features a lot of circles, signifying softness and approachability. The concentric circles and spirals also symbolize the makings of a mad scientist.
Main features: maasai shuka print apron with tools,Steampunk goggles, feathered headpiece, beaded jewelry.
Business Daily Article by Margaretta Wa Gacheru - "But the most exciting exhibition I had time to see at Design Week was Naitiemu’s multi-media project, Enkang’Ang’."
Check out the press kit to download images from the project for sharing on social. Please note that Enkang' Ang' owns the rights to all images.
Props & costumes designer
Creative executive producer
VR/ Interactive experience artist
Props & Costume designer
Lindsay Adhiambo Obath
Workshop lead & Facilitation
Per Pixel Studios
Tech & exhibition
Nairobi Design Week
VR Development assistance by :
VILLAGE WOMEN COORDINATOR
VILLAGE WOMEN INTERVIEWEES
LOCATION : Twala Tenebo Women Village, Ilpolei.
Thanks to Twala Tenebo Women for the warm accomodation, stories and the many dances we shared!
SPECIAL THANKS TO
Soul of Nations Foundation
The US Embassy
ENKANG’ ANG’ CONCEPT
Enkang’ Ang’ is sponsored by Soul of Nations Foundation, under the Green Architecture Project supported by US Embassy
I am a material & performance artist and artistic director. I am intrigued with the way materials behave and the patterns they go through, especially because I find a connection with human psychology.
My technical understanding of material science is supported by a Bsc degree in Civil Engineering which enables me to merge scientific principles with artistic concepts. This has influenced my experimental approach to material manipulation such as using different chemical reactions on metal to create art, using optical and audio concepts in my art, performances among other approaches.
Merging different elements and principles allows me to explore the multi-dimensionality of art. A piece of artwork can transform into many forms, but the emotion evoked remains the same.
I would love to explore art in all different ways, yet make it a universal language for all humans, as we are all connected.
I love to experiment with different materials and explore their properties in unconventional ways. Through this, I find my art approached via improvisation.