Maasai: The African tribe that spits to show respect

The Maasai Tribe of Africa, known for its unique clothes, ornaments, cuisine, way of life and tradition of spitting to show respect.

The Maasai tradition of spitting as a sign of respect. (Image Credits: myRepublica)
The Maasai tradition of spitting as a sign of respect. (Image Credits: myRepublica)

The Maasai Tribe of Africa is a unique cultural chasm which has its own approach to traditions and appropriate behavior. The general consensus around the world is that spitting is a sign of anger, irritation, disrespect or disregard. The Maasai Tribe, which lives mostly in Kenya and Northern Tanzania, turns that narrative on its head.

The tribe makes a measly 1% of the population but has been immortalized through various movies and series such as ‘The Gods must be Crazy’.

Not only is the tribe a major tourist attraction in Africa, it is also appreciated for its unique cultural practices and way of life.

Spitting in the Maasai Tribe

The Maasai Tribe spits as a sign of respect but most of them believe that their spit is too precious to waste on just about anyone. A substitute for spitting is sitting on one’s hands before shaking them. This too is seen a sign of support and respect amongst the Maasai people.

Another intriguing tradition is spitting on new born babies. The Maasai Tribe believes that wishing a new born child well, leads to it getting cursed and instead prefer saying derogatory things about the child and spitting on it to bless it.

Spitting is also a way to bless the bride on her wedding day. In this case the father of the bride spits on his daughter’s head and breasts publicly. This is done to wish her well and boost her fertility.

The Maasai Way of Life

The tribe traditionally consisted of nomads and the majority still conforms to that way of life. Having said that, some among the tribe’s ranks now serve as tour guides, helping tourists understand and appreciate the Maasai way of life.

The Maasai Tribe is also known for having a very unique dressing style which includes beaded ornaments, head pieces and a red sheet like material called a ‘Shuka’.

They are also responsible for debunking the myth that cattle attack the colour red as the tribe is known for cattle herding and have never faced such issues.

Western views on Maasai Traditions

The Maasai and their traditions have been scrutinized at times by western scholars and anthropologists, who have pointed out that the custom of spitting spreads diseases.

There have also been instances where Maasai Traditions have been scoffed at by individuals who aren’t open to other cultures. Over time though, with more exposure to the world and the development of egalitarian values, most people around the world have come to find the Maasai people and their traditions quite intriguing.

One of the best ways too experience Maasai culture and cuisine is to visit Kenya for the carnivore festival. The event is known for offering all sorts of exotic meats, which are a part of the tribe’s preferred cuisine.

The tribe is known for consuming most animals in the region and have a very different way of preparing these dishes.