TRIBAL AFRICAN ART

MASAI (MAASAI, MASSAI)

The 350,000 Masai living mainly in Kenya and Tanganyika are nomadic herdsmen. They are known for their courage and magnificent physiques; young Masai warriors, armed only with a shield and spear, are required to slay a lion. The Masai have long maintained an enmity for the Kukuyu and other Bantu tribes of the region.  For the Masai notions of wealth and prestige are intimately linked with the size of animal herds. Cattle are believed to be a gift from God. The Masai have a deep disregard for any agricultural activity, seeing the earth as dirty. Consequently, they do not bury their dead in the earth; they build their houses from cow dung, not clay from the earth like many African agrarian peoples.

There are no specialized artists among the Masai. Individuals produce items of adornment and utilitarian objects according to need. There is a division of labor along gender line. Women are responsible for beadwork, making necklaces and earrings, decorating gourds, men create the elaborate coiffures worn by young warriors and carve their own personal objects, including headrests, walking canes, and decorated leather shields with multicoloured decorations.  

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