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An Ethnographic Study of the Maasai Community in the US

The Maasai is an ethnic community in Kenya, East Africa, with one of the most distinct cultures in the world, which is recognized visually. They wear unique clothing, which is red, as well as colourful beaded jewellery. They are nomadic pastoralists famous for herding, rustling, and fighting using traditional weapons. This tribe of people has succeeded in preserving their culture while the culture of other ethnic communities has been significantly eroded by western influence. Traditionally young men aged 14 left home to start warriors training which involved learning skills to enable them to live in the wilderness for up to seven years with no other resource except a blanket and a spear (Bruner, 890). The training is meant to initiate adulthood with its demanding responsibilities. The young men had to learn skills needed to kill lions and leopards, among other dangerous wild animals or risk death in the wilderness. Besides, they developed skills to survive in the harsh conditions of the wilderness, foster a wide range of important knowledge and develop some innate communion with nature.

The Maasai community was studied by interviewing small immigrant communities currently residing in the USA. The research methodology also included observing their deeds, words, social interaction, cultural symbols, rituals, and shared attitudes and values. The data collected from observation and interviews was sufficient to learn significant information about their culture, but it had some shortcomings, such as the artificial behaviour of study subjects as well as western culture influence since they were now living in a completely different set-up. Besides, some were reluctant to yield information on aspects of their culture considered savage or retrogressive. Some of the study participants had come to study and have intermarried with members of other communities, and since they were minority communities, the impact of mainstream cultural trends on their cultural attitudes, values and practices cannot be underestimated (Bruner, 896). However, since the community members have been able to preserve their culture over the years, it was expected that the research findings could be better than they could have been studying cultural communities with apparent signs of significant transformation over the years.

During data collection, it was observed that most of them still treasured their cultural dress code as well as their jewellery. Most of them still dressed culturally, at least sometimes, despite looking conspicuous. They also communicated in their local dialect whenever they were conversing with one another. Members of the community also continued to practice their culture, including slaughtering procedures, courtship, spirituality, initiation as well as family structure. Back in their land of origin, they reside mainly in Kenya and Tanzania, where they occupy large junks of community land due to their warriors and skills acquired during initiation to adulthood. Most of the smaller communities were displaced by the Maasai from their former community land (Madondo, 21). Modern-day land uses such as ranches, national parks, educational institutions, and pre-historic sites have utilized land that was initially community land for the Maasai, forcing them to diversify their economic activities. However, they still demand grazing rights for their livestock in national parks as well as nature conservancies (Madondo 21). Some leaders have embraced an arrangement where tourists are welcome to stay in their villages to learn about their cultural heritage, encouraging them to preserve their culture while accessing economic benefits.

Ethnographic studies often face a number of challenges, including time constraints, travelling in harsh terrain, cooperation by participants and misleading responses by participants. In this study, structured observation was the most effective method since community members were fellow students, workmates, and residents in the schools’ locality; hence, both formal and informal structured observations were utilized. Observations were recorded for analysis and interpretation later with the help of a cooperative member of the community. As a result, a structured account of cultural conduct and ideas were established. Besides, the observer took multiple roles during the study, including complete participant, complete observer, facilitator as well as narrator. Structured observation nevertheless faced challenges, including the ability to maintain objectivity, spending a lot of time, the need for privacy as well as the influence of the observer’s attitudes, values and beliefs (Mtuy et al., 828). Raw data collected included the date, location, time, participants and the sequence of events observed. Secondary data was from statements, experiential data as, well as circumstantial and background information. Data analysis, theorizing and undertaking the write-up face were carried out after a coding schedule was determined before the commencement of the study.

Since the study was in a specific setting and not easily replicable, the possibility of observer bias potentially threatens the study’s validity. However, the study reduced these threats by counterchecking observations, analysis and interpretation with multiple independent participants as a quality control measure. The coding structure and comparing the data collected with what is available in scholarly quotas were also undertaken. The study, therefore, sheds light on the traditional practices of the community and how it influences the lives of its members now and into the foreseeable future (Mtuy et al., 826). Their ability to preserve these cultures has played a significant role in developing effective herbal remedies for many diseases, nurturing responsible citizens, and conserving the environment.

Works Cited

Bruner, Edward M. “The Maasai and the Lion King: Authenticity, nationalism, and globalization in African tourism.” American Ethnologist 28.4 (2001): 881-908.

Madondo, Silas Memory. “Experiences in Conducting Ethnographic Studies in Marginalized Communities. A Case of Maasai and Hadzabe Tribes in Northern Tanzania.” National Geographic (2009).

Mtuy, Tara B., et al. “Understanding hard-to-reach communities: local perspectives and experiences of trachoma control among the pastoralist Maasai in northern Tanzania.” Journal of Biosocial Science 53.6 (2021): 819-838.


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