Maasai Oral Histories Project The Explorers Club   Center for Teaching International Relations at DU


  The Project

One of the most celebrated peoples of Africa, the Maasai have roamed the land for centuries, ignoring the national boundaries that sprung up around them. But today, they are finding themselves increasingly restricted and misunderstood by the modern Africa that now encircles them. The traditional Maasai lifestyle is under pressure to change, as the Maasai find themselves on a collision course with modern society.

The Maasai Oral Histories Project will record and archive Maasai oral histories, myths, rituals, stories, laws, and beliefs, which are traditionally passed on by senior elders. Many recording sessions will take place at local Maasai schools, in a context that allows interaction between the elders and students familiar with new technology.


In addition, the Project will be an intercultural experience for students in the United States. A classroom Study Guide has been developed to introduce the Maasai Oral Histories Project to various grade levels. Images and translated text will also be transmitted to our field journal during December 2004 and January 2005. The combination of our Study Guide and Field Journal allows the Maasai Oral Histories Project to be easily integrated into existing social studies, African studies or geography curriculum with images and text from the recording sessions, along with age-relevant material to stimulate interaction between Maasai and American students. If the technology and circumstance allows, we will send and reply to classroom e-mail on a daily basis.

When languages are lost, the unique history of tribal origins, tales of epic battles and events, and the rationale behind daily rituals, from birth to death, are also lost.

Today, the process of change in Kenya, and particularly for the Maasai, is cumulative and accellerative. It's happening more and more, faster and faster. The most senior Maasai elders are now dying - at the same time the younger generation is increasingly influenced by western commerce and technology. There are many new movements at work creating enormous pressure on the Maasai to settle down, to construct permanent housing, to fence their cattle, to compete for commerce, to speak English and Swahili - and to forget about the old ways.

The heavy influence of technology and education is not , in itself, a bad thing. However, if the price to be paid is the loss of the Maasai oral histories and accumulated tribal wisdom, the Maasai culture will be lost forever.

If we allow the senior elders to die without preserving their stories, the long, slender thread of their cultural legacy will disappear within two or three generations. The cultural significance of recording and preserving their oral histories, archived in Maa and English, and the need to share this knowledge with their children, has become seriously urgent.


The Maasai Oral Histories Project has three interrelated goals:

Recording and Archiving (collecting the stories)
The stories that best represent Maasai history and culture will be translated into English and Swahili, and the final, edited recordings (DVDs) will be distributed and archived with libraries, universities, museums and schools in Kenya and the United States.

Intergenerational Communications (from elders to school children)
Many of the recording sessions will be held at local Maasai schools, where the children will listen to the grandfathers tell stories about their ancestors. We will also be recording the stories of Maasai grandmothers as their point-of-view should also be preserved.

Intercultural Communications (from Africa to America)
The Maasai Oral Histories Project will be available to thousands of students in classrooms around the United States. Our coordinated classroom Study Guide has been developed to introduce the Maasai to teachers and students, along with suggestions for interactive communications. The University of Denver will ultimately use the recordings to develop a K-12 curriculum on globalization.