Maasai Oral Histories
The Maasai Oral Histories Project aims to record and archive Maasai oral histories, myths, rituals, stories, laws, and beliefs, which are traditionally passed on by senior elders.
Maasai Village Students Go Global
Ilana Pearlman
01/11/2005, Mara Rianta, Kenya

Maasai Oral Histories Project
Field Journal, January 11, 2005
By Ilana Pearlman

Today we took the satellite equipment back to Mara Rianta Primary School to show the students that their picture was on the Internet, for the entire world to see. You have to understand that none of them have ever seen or heard of the Internet before, and maybe only a few of the older students have ever seen a computer.

Picture this. These children live in a rural village in dung huts with no electricity or running water. They have never seen a television or a radio, or ridden in a car much less an airplane. There is nothing here that could be called a modern convenience. Some students walk three to six kilometers, past elephants, lions and buffalo, just to get to school. Students in higher grades are actually required to go home after school to do chores and eat dinner, then walk back to school to spend the night because the school has a generator, which provides just enough electricity for them to study. Can you imagine having to sleep on a mat on the floor of your school so you can have enough time in the evening to do your homework?

Now picture what these students experienced today. We sat in a crowded classroom where kids ranging in age from 10 to 16 huddled around a computer attached to a satellite phone looking at pictures of them on the Internet. It was almost too hard for them to grasp the concept that students in the United States can see the same picture that they are seeing in Kenya.

Today, the Maasai people are standing at a crossroads where the past meets the future. There is such a dichotomy between where the younger generation is today and where they will be in the future that it's hard to relate to what they must be experiencing. For those of us in westernized countries, we have experienced the progress of technology. Here, the younger generation has to go from living as the Maasai have lived for thousands of years to the modern life of today in an instant. Furthermore, to adapt to these changing times, many of the educated Maasai who are in there twenties and thirties have moved away from their villages and have moved into the cities where they can find well paying jobs. Their children are not going to have the same connection to Maasai culture as their parents did. They will not learn the Maa language or have any knowledge of the lore.

The Maasai people, young and old, understand that they live a primitive lifestyle in a modern world. They understand the importance of education and embrace the concept of "progress." However, they don't want to move forward at the cost of losing their cultural identity. It would be a travesty for a culture as rich as the Maasai to vanish before anything could be done to stop it.

We are fortunate to have David Ole Paswa and Regina Nakola with us on this project. David and Regina are part of the first generation to bridge the gap between the traditional Maasai lifestyle and the modern world. Both grew up in small villages and then went on to complete their college education. All the children in the class have to do is look at these two and see that it is possible to succeed in today's world and still remain connected to the Maasai culture.