Apr 21 2008

Masai Ceremony and visit to Leleshwa Camp

Published by at 11:40 am under Masai

Just back from a lightning trip to the Mara. Headed down the road on 19 April with our good friend Annabella Frachescon of Maniago Travel to accompany a group of Spanish journalists/photographers who had flown in to Kenya to publicise our tourist industry. The road is pretty awful in places but the engineers are hard at work resurfacing it so hopefully it wont be long before driving to the Mara is a lot more comfortable. Maniago Travel organise all our international travel tickets and transfers with Henry Mburi doing an amazing job ticketing for us. On this occasion we stayed at Leleshwa Camp (owned and managed by Joe and Gillian Charleson – you can find out more at www.leleshwacamps.com) which is only a four hour drive from Nairobi on the other side of the Mara to the Governor’s Camp area where we film Big Cat Diary.

This is a beautiful part of the Mara not far from Siana Springs to the east of the Reserve – totally unspoilt and tucked away among tall stands of yellow-barked acacia trees. The camp is a joy – comfortable tents and lovely ambience with superb staff, and Joe and Gillian as your hosts. If you want to get away from the crowd then this is the camp to stay at. There are three prides of lions, cheetahs and leopards in the area, but on this occasion big game wasn’t our priority. We had come to the Mara to attend the graduation ceremony of a Masai friend who was becoming a Senior Elder – with the added attraction of the wedding of one of his cousins.

Angie and I have spent many wonderful days with the Masai photographing their colourful ceremonies and enjoying learning more about their culture. The Masai are such a part of the Mara landscape, and the future of the Reserve lies in their hands. Though times are changing for these nomadic pastoralists many still cling to their traditional way of life, and James was incredibly proud to be honoured as a Senior Elder. James spends much of his time taking people on safari with Maniago Travel, but he loves his homeland and this was an important moment for him and his family.

We spent two extaordinary days with James and his clan, providing us with the opportunity to photograph events as they unfolded. We arrived at daybreak to see the cattle and small stock still constrained within the thornbush boma, and watched as the men isolated the steer that was to be slaughtered as the centre piece of the ceremony. It is always an amazing sight to see Masai in numbers and the gathering was spectacular, with everyone dressed in their finest most colourful attire. Here was everything we had hoped to see – the young warriors vying for the chance to better each other in their traditional leaping dance the ground vibrating with the rhythm of their deep resonant chanting; massed ranks of men and women singing and moving en mass around the boma; the young bride bashful in all her finery being escorted by her relatives to her new home; throngs of children wide-eyed and fascinated at the energy of the life of their elders.

All of us felt blessed to have witnessed these ancient ceremonies, defining a way of life that is fast disappearing. It provided the perfect introduction for our Spanish friends from overseas, offering them a glimpse of a unique facet of this extraordinary county which Angie and I are so proud to call our home. On our way back to Leleshwa Camp on the final night we were hosted to a surprise bush dinner among ancient rocky outcrops. A full moon appeared ghostly above the darkening sky as we sat and reflected on all that we had seen and photographed. Later, safely ensconced in our tents, the rain beating a noisy tatoo on the canvas roof, we fell asleep with the magic of safari ingrained in our being. This is all part of the Kenya we love.

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