“Kuyaa… I’m off!”
Milo walked briskly, leading his herd on a dusty road, the sand burning his feet more than usual. The Savannah sun shone mercilessly drinking up all the watering holes for the Maasai cattle. Milo had an agreement with the reserve game keeper, Moses: he would be allowed to take his cattle to the only watering hole in miles, that had been claimed by the reserve authorities for the tourist camp, in return for free meat. Milo, all of twelve, with a dear ambition to be recruited into the warrior group of his tribe, found this arrangement both wearisome and exciting. Though a long walk in the burning summer afternoons, it would put him within a close proximity of the wild housed in the reserve. He was always fascinated by the tales of his elders, describing their encounters with the Big Five. The reserve being a world tourist destination also meant he could catch a glimpse of the foreigners with their huge cameras, that he believed were rifles as a child.
He was a young tribal of the diminishing Maasai tribe, of the East African grasslands, raised by his parents and educated by his grandfather. They lived in a kraal set in the vicinity of the Maasai Maara Game Park that attracted tourists from all over the world. Theirs’s was the smallest family of the kraal, which comprised of small mud huts arranged in a simplistic circle and fenced by a tall wall of acacia thorns. This protected their community from the sight of foreigners and more importantly, lions.
The ancient tribes would follow what is known as communal land management system, each kraal land to be shared collectively by its families and their livestock, being a common property managed by all families in seasonal rotation. Women were the literal homemakers as it was their job to build the mud and dung huts. The males were warriors who defended their people and cattle from external threats mainly the big cats. It is said, the African lions have learned to fear the scent of a Maasai. Milo’s grandfather was their kraal advisor, a staunch follower of tradition, well versed with ancient Maasai laws.
This drought had compelled neighboring kraals to overlook their boundary rules, in order to graze their cattle throughout the plains until the rains arrived. Milo would meet a few boys his age from neighboring communities, something he would rarely do. While the primary means for the traditional Maasai folks was cattle rearing and trading, diminishing livestock was forcing a lot of groups to abandon this tradition and move on to farming. Milo’s grandfather would always frown upon such desperate means. He considered converting grazing lands to human cultivation, a sacrilege. Children and cattle were their most precious treasures.
“Catch a lion for me!” called out Milo’s little friend Akinyi, as he left with the cattle to the watering hole.
On his trips to the reserve water tank with his goats, he would meet Josiah, a boy of fourteen, from neighboring kraal, leading his herd. Josiah belonged to a family that had adapted to the modern market economies and were involved in trading livestock for electronics, among other commodities. Milo was fascinated the first time he saw a cellphone. It had more colors than his mothers’ beads, could sing and show things Milo was alien to. Moses educated them regarding the different functions of the phone. On returning home, Milo would be filled with stories of the reserve, for his mother and the faithful Akinyi, who practically lived in their house. Grandfather would listen with a slight frown.
“It’s the foreigners!” cried Akinyi, one afternoon as a 4X4 Land Rover drove outside the fence. One of the warriors was outside, negotiating the fees with tourists for a tour inside their kraal to observe the Maasai way of life.
“Inside engayeni!” growled the grandfather.
But Milo wanted to meet the foreigners. Josiah had said they always carried gifts. His delay infuriated his grandfather, who dragged him inside as Milo’s mother watched reproachfully.
“Why can’t I go out? Just this once, please,” implored Milo.
“They’re no good, the lot! They are the reason we have to walk miles for our cattle. They robbed us of our land! And now they come to goggle at us like animals! If I had it my way, I would never allow them to set foot in my kraal. My own people have turned against me. Such shame! As long as you are under this roof you shall not step out!”
“I don’t care what that traitor says. You’d better stay away from that bad influence!” thundered the grandfather
Milo turned to his mother who shrugged. She had tried to reason with grandfather many times, in vain.
Outside, the ladies of the tribe had begun the welcome dance that was adoringly being filmed by the tourists. The warriors showed off their spears and the new alpha his lion headdress. The famous warrior jumping dance came next. The tourists were also shown into the modest houses.
Milo sulked on the floor, as Akinyi came running her fist full of sweets. She faltered at grandfather’s gaze and signaled to Milo that she’d return, and she ran off.
Milo glared at his grandfather with eyes full of tears. Among the children in his community Milo was the only one who did not attend school. His mother had faced beating for the mere suggestion. His education was restricted to hearing stories of his proud Maasai ancestors, who lead self sufficient lives, who never had to resort to toiling in farms, who did not depend on relief food supplies. But what he learned from his grandfather, was so different from what he saw on his trips outside. Why couldn’t grandfather see it? Josiah was so well off. Milo had always adored his grandfather and enjoyed his regaling tales, but at times like these he resented his grandfather more than anything.
The arrival of his father that evening eased the unrest in the house. As grandfather went out to occupy his evening seat, near the shrubbery at the entrance, Milo recounted his afternoon altercation with grandfather.
“So that’s why you’re looking like a grumpy Hippo! You have no choice but to listen to him, you know. Now lose that frown. I’ve spoken to Rafiki. You shall be joining the association school after rains. We’ll be done with your enkipaata too.” This made Milo smile.
Milo’s father stepped out and walked to his father, who was staring at the skies. “The wind has changed its direction today, Papa.”
Big Five– Main wild attractions: African Lion, Cheetah, Leopard, Elephant and Rhinoceros.
Enkipaata- Boys first initiation ceremony.
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