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History of a Pastoral People

THE Maasai are mostly a pastoral people whose lives center around cattle and rituals, including circumcision. The ritual expert, known as the Oloiboni, is the final authority. Most of the more than 300,000 Maasai in East Africa live along the Kenya-Tanzania border. In 1904, the British colonial powers in Kenya set up two Maasai reserves: one in the south, one in the north. But in 1913, the northern one was opened to European occupancy, as Europeans sought to settle in fertile Maasai lands, according to Robert Rinhart, author of ``Kenya: A Country Study.''

Today, several thousand northern Maasai still live and herd livestock in a partially forested, partially scrub area roughly between Nanyuki and Isiolo towns, often far from any roads. Maasai are often portrayed as resisting change. But Kenyan anthropologist Mukhisa Kituyi says that they are adapting to modern ways. He explains that a growing number are acquiring individually-run ranches and using modern methods for cattle raising, including fencing, and drilling bore holes for water. Others are turning to farming.

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Some well-educated Maasai have taken high-level government and private industry posts. But due to a general lack of educational opportunities, most Maasai turning to urban employment end up with low-paying jobs such as unskilled construction, or guarding property, Dr. Kituyi says.

Tinkoi, a Kenyan Maasai, takes a middle road position to change. He owns a ranch, but lets other Maasai graze their cattle on it, to gain esteem, Dr. Kituyi says. But, with no sons, Tinkoi hopes one day to make money selling the ranch.

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