“Once Intrepid Warriors”: Modernity and the Production of Maasai Masculinities

  • Dorothy L. Hodgson


Mentioning “the Maasai” usually invokes images of warriors, of men herding cattle, of proud patriarchs:

The most picturesque people in East Africa are those of a tribe which has changed little of its ways since the advent of the White Man—the Masai. The tourist, when he spots a Masai herding his beloved cattle, or leaning gracefully on the haft of his long bladed spear, cannot but feel the spirit of Africa of yesterday (“Kilusu” 1956–1957:135)

As this quotation indicates, such romanticized images of Maasai,2 particularly male Maasai, as immutable icons of traditional Africa have been shared by many Westerners, from the first explorers and missionaries in the nineteenth century to the tourists taking their pictures today Many would sympathize with the sentiments of a 1989 letter to The New York Times that lamented the fate of Maasai in Tanzania:

After reading your … [article] from Tanzania, which asks if the fate of the semi-nomadic Masai people is at last to be fenced in, I was horrified to learn that Tanzania is encouraging subjugation and ultimate obliteration of some of its oldest and noblest inhabitants, the once free and beautiful Masai.

Now they are supposed to be farmers. They know nothing of farming. They are nomadic herdsmen and once intrepid warriors.


Ethnic Identity Dominant Masculinity Colonial Period Ambivalent Attitude Colonial Administrator 
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© Dorothy Hodgson 2001

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  • Dorothy L. Hodgson

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