‘Maasai Cricket Warriors’

The Maasai bear the weight of being one of the original noble savage dream tribals that the British and the Germans salivated over (in India, the Sikhs play the role of the exotic, animal protein-loving warriors, whose aggression got recruited into the Crown’s loyal service). The Maasai are such a standard-bearing cipher for all that ‘modernity’ regards as unadulterated, wild masculinity that a recurrent news story in Northern Euro/Brit tabloids is one where some random white European woman visits East Africa, meets the fabulousness that is the Maasai/Samburu warrior, and takes him back to her cold homeland. Then, there’s the inevitable photo of him bagging groceries at the local Aldi or Tesco (and his whole masculine juju is gone.) But here’s something different: the British newspaper The Telegraph, and US magazine The Atlantic (online) are running photographic galleries of strapping “Maasai Warriors” in full beads-and-braids regalia playing cricket. The Maasai Cricket Warriors have been training in the port city of Mombasa, at the Legends Cricket Nursery. They are hoping to travel to South Africa to take part in the Last Man Stands World Championships (what a name), and are raising funds to make the trip.

And why are the Maasai playing cricket? From these media we learn that this group of “young Maasai warriors” from the Laikipia region formed a cricket team with the hope of promoting “healthy living,” and spreading “awareness about HIV/AIDS and women’s issues.” Ultimately, they want to “become role models in their community and ambassadors for both the Maasai and Kenya.” We don’t learn why the group chose cricket, or how they were initially trained about the basics of the game. However, we learn that Meshami, who was born in “a remote village in the Rift Valley area,” and “the youngest in a family of nine children” was unable to attend school, but that “he helped his family tend their herds of goats and sheep.” He tells his sponsoring public that he “mastered the art of throwing a spear at a very early age and I also became good at throwing stones long distances. The aim of the spear was never to harm or hurt any wildlife, but rather as a protection if ever I had found myself in a one-on-one situation having to fight for my own life.”

Clearly, it’s all good stuff here: this is a group of young men doing some stand-up work to elevate their communities. Instead of remaining helpless and backward, the men are motivated, responsible, self-actualising. How refreshingly modern! Besides, the photographs are beautiful, well-conceptualised jewels.

But these young men still carry that old weight: being Maasai means that they must carry on playing the picturesque warrior. That also means being stuck on replay: highland-fit, ochre-smeared, spear-carrying, and looking good next to large herds of cows, while BBC nature-show commentators tell us all about how bovines are the Maasai’s cash, even though they cause ecological damage.

We never get told that the characteristic red tartan-patterned blankets so ubiquitously associated with the Maasai were actually given to them (to hide their nakedness) by Brit/Scottish missionaries.

13 thoughts on “‘Maasai Cricket Warriors’

  1. Certainly, examining (and exposing) the layers of history and ideas that inform our reading of Africa/Africans can seem ‘cynical,’ but clearly, that’s not our intent at AIAC. Rather, our aim is to inform ourselves and our readers of those layers, so that we ‘read’ imagery with more questions, rather than consume without consciousness and awareness.

  2. yeah, it’s a little bit cynical but also incredibly celebratory and diverse– or have you read everything else on the internet?

  3. I actually really love the cynical tone and I do think it helps as readers to be more critical of how we view others and how we view ourselves viewing others.
    To me, the funniest part is that if you think back to the early documenataries and black and white footage of Africa commentated by Western Europeans during the colonial and post-colonial periods, they often used the exact same commentary to refer to Africa and Africans, yet back then, they weren’t being cynical at all. Poor fools they meant it all.

    • Thanks, Charlene. That’s exactly my point. And that commentary/image repertoire remains with us, powerful ghostly apparitions still colouring our vision of Africa. So yes, it’s good to be mindful.

  4. I love the cynicism here, for far too long we have not properly questioned narratives and pictures on Africans.

    The pics are great though! Lots of old white women will be flocking Mombasa for a piece of their Maasai warriors. If they aren’t already.

  5. The Atlantic has something that just brings out the beauty in the photo. And also eliminates the names of our plain cricketeers apart from the captain.

  6. Did you ask Maasai how they saw their portrayal in this video? I love the way you ask questions but in this article you seem to speak on behalf of Maasai warriors. If you met dozens of them you will know that they wont be offended to be portrayed as warriors, they would actually be proud

    “But these young men still carry that old weight: being Maasai means that they must carry on playing the picturesque warrior….”

    and in the following you seem to downgrade and offedning the lifestyle many Maasai warrior actually live:

    “That also means being stuck on replay: highland-fit, ochre-smeared, spear-carrying, and looking good next to large herds of cows,…”

    why are you stuck when you “ochre-smeared, spear-carrying”? Isnt this exactly the Western-minded brain message that Africa-Is-A-Country tries to tackle?

    Sorry, for the provocative comments but I think this is one of the few places in the internet such controversial discussions are taking place. Thanks for the great work you’re doing, all of you!!!

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