STORY // KENYA :: Massai Wedding

Story is below the images…


After finishing with my first partnership in Kenya, I headed down to one of the more southern parts of the country. A town that sits near the border of Tanzania and drinks in the beauty of Mt. Kilimanjaro daily. A remote dusty town where everything started for me. Where my passion for reaching people and telling their stories first began. Where it was first planted. A town called Mbirikani. Just three years ago when I was working for Sky Ranch Camps I made my first trip to this place and it changed my life forever. Changed my perception of the world. Of my surroundings. Of myself. Changed my relationship with my Lord. Because of that experience is why I am here now. Doing what I’m doing. Needless to say, I was elated to be able to go back to this place.

When I was last in Mbirikani I made a dear friend named Joseph. Even though we have been living on other sides of the world we have always been brothers. Distance can’t change such a thing. I was anxious to see him again. He had worked with Sky Ranch every year they had done camp in Mbirikani so he has a long-standing friendship and deep love for all things Sky Ranch. Well, I was excited, to say the least, to find out that he was getting married. What more of a joyous occasion could you ask for a reunion? I made sure that I scheduled my trip to be able to attend his wedding. As soon as I reached Mbirikani everything was a buzz with wedding preparations that were already underway. Thursday morning, when I first arrived, I was warmly welcomed and eager to see all my friends once more. I went ahead and set up a tent in Joseph’s boma. A boma is an area that contains a number of little huts where families live. It is surrounded by a fence made of acacia branches that are full of mammoth thorns for security. Each night the people would bring their livestock into the enclosure to keep them safe and keep predators out. Right there in Joseph’s boma sat my new tented home for the next few nights. It felt good to be back.

One thing that I must say is that this country is beautiful. Breathtaking even. I am reminded of Hemingway’s words that he so beautifully wrote about this country. About this sight. About this beauty. Open Savannas with tall grass waving in the wind. The acacia trees with their flat tops creating a perfect frame to watch the sunset with Kilimanjaro towering off in the distance. I do have to admit; much of it reminds me of home. Parts of South Texas with the shrub trees and everything covered in thorns. Reminiscences of mesquite trees and the rocky soil that I grew up hunting on run through my mind. The familiarity of it is comforting but the distinct difference to it adds a majestic beauty that is unbelievable unless seen with one’s own eyes.

I found that I had little time to breath in my familiar surroundings; there was much to do before the wedding. I was ready. I had arrived just that morning but we were already moving quickly. Weddings normally take a couple of days so we were right at the beginning of all the festivities. That afternoon and evening the elders from Joseph’s clan (community) gathered together to make some final decisions. Food, arrangements, final details, all of it. It went on through the night until it was finally time for bed.

Waking up to a crisp morning, seeing the red Maasai fabric flapping in the breeze. It was picturesque to say the least. As the sunlight began to penetrate the darkness the mountain that sits just on the other side of the border began to become more visible in the glow of the light. The sight of it all held the beauty that all mornings are supposed to hold, the beauty of the Lord. All though I could have stayed and drank in the view forever it was time to move. Friday. Big day. Things started quickly. Lots more preparations to be made before it all began.  And then it was time.  The groom, his wedding party (some fellow warriors and his oldest brother) and of course, myself, piled into a few cars and headed out to the bride-to-be’s boma. A journey full of bumps and pot holes felt in the back of a pickup blazing down a dusty road with only sounds of the wind whipping.  We made it to the boma and everyone began their traditional greetings, warmly welcoming us all to the celebrations. After we were fully welcomed Joseph and the bride’s father met for a heart-to-heart while the rest of us waited in a small room.

As soon as Joseph and his future father-in-law were finished the rest of the warriors and myself left to go outside the boma and have some choma (roasted goat). Warriors eat together. They sit in a circle and hand out slices of choma to each going around to everyone until the goat is finished.  It teaches unity and caring for your fellow warrior. Once we finished it was time to move again, well maybe I should actually say it was time to “wait” again. We piled back into our little room for about 2-3 hours and listened to the father-of-the-bride and the elders from her community give words of wisdom and advice. As we sat and listened I was constantly reminded of the temperature with every bead of sweat that rolled down my face. It seemed to just become more stifling the longer we were in there. There isn’t a sauna in the world that could compare to it, I’m sure of it.

Finally all the formalities were finished and it was time for some rest. We ended up spending the night in the future bride’s boma in various different huts. It felt nice to finally lie down in a place where I wasn’t profusely sweating for hours on end.

The next morning, Saturday, was an early start. I stumbled awake and prepared for the day, which my preparations proved to be pretty uneventful compared to the rest of Joseph’s wedding party. The Maasai warriors in their full glory. Dressed in their traditional ceremonial shukas (cloths). Beads gleaming in the light of the rising sun. Within the same boma the bride and her bride’s maids were preparing for the day as well. Dressing and primping to be absolute perfection for the big celebration. When everyone was absolutely perfect we piled back into the truck. Myself, the warriors, the bride’s maids, the bride and groom and all of the bride’s belongings fit in tightly all next to each other ready for the next portion of the big day watching behind us as we left her family dancing in celebration. We arrived back to Joseph’s boma to find a mob of people anxiously waiting for our grand entrance. As soon we were insight they began dancing and celebrating welcoming us and encouraging the day to start off joyful and animated.

The woman of the community began at once. They formed a group outside the boma’s protective fence and started dancing and singing. All the while the women from Joseph’s family began to dance and sing inside the boma closer to Joseph’s home. They continued to celebrate as two separate entities but slowly began to move closer and closer to the car. As they did their mobs formed into one mass to make just one large group of excited woman dancing and singing in pure joy. Once close enough to the vehicle they greeted the new bride and ushered her into the boma to the front door of Joseph’s house. As soon as she reached the front door Joseph’s mother took her inside the house to talk with her. Much like how her father took Joseph to talk with him. As we waited I observed. Native dress and dancing was everywhere. Warriors began their legendary Maasai jumping that continued on for hours. People were scattered along the hillside under shade trees eating and enjoying the entertainment. Later in the afternoon after everyone was reassembled, the Pastor called everyone together to begin the service and pray over the couple. Afterwards everyone was quick to return back to eating, dancing and singing. It was true celebration.

The Maasai culture is extraordinarily communal. Everything is decided as a group. A community. A family. Everyone was at the wedding. Watching and celebrating. Singing and dancing. Rejoicing and fellowshipping. Together. As one unit.

But community doesn’t just take place at weddings. Communities can indeed celebrate together, but they can also morn together. Come together along side each other in hard times. Even when they end up shadowing joyous occasions, such as a dear friends wedding.

On Sunday morning I was to go to church with Joseph. When I came out of my tent at 6:30am he was no where to be found. I decided to try and wait patiently but by the time 9:00am rolled around I began to wonder where he was. So I called him. “I’ll be there in a minute and explain”, was all he said. Sure enough, not 5 minutes later he arrived on a dirt bike. He then explained his delay. Apparently a “boy” (around 18-20 years old) from the next boma which was about a 10 minute walk from where we were, had been killed by an elephant. He had been herding cattle with some other young morans (warriors). That was about the extent of the story that I was able to get at the moment. We quickly bounded onto his dirt bike and reached the next boma where I found the same faces that I had seen the day before at the wedding. Everyone had reconvened together, as a community, once again. But now for a completely different reason. No longer a time of energetic celebration but of sorrowful morning. The woman sat together comforting each other. The young morans scattered on the hillside under the shade trees. The chief, elders and junior elders huddled together to discuss the funeral as well as what they should do about the elephant that had murdered their family member.

In this culture, if an animal kills someone the people are expected to retaliate and kill the animal in return. If they are unable to kill the actual guilty creature, they kill one of its kind for some kind of comfort. The men sat impatiently to hear from the Game Scouts (Game Wardens) to see if they were going to take care of the elephant in question. If the answer was “no” then the men were going to send out all the morans to kill and elephant with their spears in shear defiance. Being the only mzungu (white person) there and not knowing exactly what to do or what was appropriate, after a few hours I paid my respects to the family and went back to Joseph’s boma for the rest of the evening. Joseph stayed behind with his family, his friends, his community. Comforting and morning together.

It was a restless night for everyone but the next morning I was able to hear the full story from Joseph. Apparently on Friday several warriors (his cousins) were herding Joseph’s cattle from a place called the Chulyu’s back towards Joseph’s boma where there was more water. They came upon a group of elephants. The young warriors, being boys and wanting to prove their manhood and strength, went to scare off the elephants instead of opting to move the cattle to another area. The whole expedition seemed to actually turn out quick successful…except for one. One elephant decided to charge instead of fleeing.  The warriors all scattered… except for one.   With the others watching from a distance they saw the boy wait until elephant was only a mere 20 yards away. The saw him rear back and throw his spear. They watched the poor thrown arrow deflect off the animal and fall to the ground.  Horrified none of the warriors could believe what they were witnessing. The angered elephant continued to charge and in the end killed the boy. According to the other warriors, the elephant picked up the boy with it’s trunk and tossed him around like a rag doll repeatedly before finally crushing him under it’s foot.

The incredible mood swing from the day before to what I was seeing the very next day was so drastic it was tangible. It was an interesting and yet incredibly upsetting thing to witness. To see the community so closely knit experiencing such elation and such devastation all in one weekend. And to a western mindset, processing the difference in our cultures. Trying to wrap my thoughts around what I had just seen and heard and how to appropriately convey my emotions to the family that I found myself surrounded by. For me, I felt sorry for the family and hated that the boy was killed. But on the other sad, I found myself really struggling with feeling deep remorse and trying to understand this culture of retaliation. In my mind, the boy, in some ways, got what he deserved. I continued thinking, “you mess with a 2 ton animal who are known to be dangerous, bad things are going to happen.” The old saying kept running through my mind, “if you play with fire you’re going to get burned.” There was no part of me whatsoever that wanted the boy to die and I still truly hate that he did. I never want to sound cold hearted. It just all seemed like such a strange way of thinking to me. Thinking about what that boy must of thought when he was faced with such an enormous creature. Didn’t he realize the consequences of messing with something you can’t handle? I had an exceptionally hard time understanding the concept of wandering out into the bush to kill an animal simply because an all-to-eager young warrior decided to pick a fight with it and didn’t win.  The logic around the community seemed to be that “the elephant should never had attacked the boy, no matter what he did to it, and since it did, it must die.”

It would have been one thing had the animal attacked out of nowhere.  But it didn’t.  It attacked out of self defense.  But that logic didn’t apply here.  And I’m no softy against killing animals… Any of you who know me, know I love to hunt.  It was the reasoning for this that baffled me.  For me this was one of those major experiences that really highlight cultural differences in ways of thinking. Something I really had to process…

…Something I’m still contemplating about. Still chewing over. The entire weekend really. So many cultural experiences rolled into just a few short days. Watching my friend move into a new and extremely important stage of life to seeing him morn and hang his head in complete despair the following day. It was a lot to take in. Not just for me, but for the community. The Body of people that make up that small dusty village. That come together in times of pure jubilation to celebrate and rejoice as well the times of utter dejection and sorrow. Regardless the occasion, they are together. Forever. As one unit. One entity. One family. A community. Together.

show hide 8 comments

lynds - lane! this is beautiful. you captured the maasai so well. i miss those colors. kilimanjaro has barely any snow left! weird!

John Durham - Lane – unbelieveable bro. what an extraordinary story and event. that narrative will be in your mind for the rest of your life. we all live in the tension of that story, it’s just not as vivid at times back in the states. know of our weekly prayers for you as the durhams gather and pray. much love to you bro. (and love the jumping maasai pic, that was one of my favorite things in Kenya) – John Durham

Rocky Garza - I absolutely love these!!!! You are a beast.

Mike McGuire - Man, what an eventful post! Reading about the Mbirikani reminds me of some amazing memories. Sounds like God is giving you plenty of opportunities to tell His story! Keep it up sir, I’m gonna try and call you this week!

holly - You’re a great writer, mister!

Kay Stroud - Lane,
Once you see the magnificent animals in their natural setting, you do get a different perspective on them. We loved seeing the Massai when we were there and the beauty of the Great Rift Valley. You have made some amazing memories and wonderful pictures.

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