Maasai - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The life-style of the Maasai is oriented toward their herds of cattle, although sheep and goats play an important part in their diet, especially during the dry season, when milk is scarce. The need to graze stock necessitates dispersal over the widest area that is consistent with the availability of grazing and access to water, especially in the dry season. Traditionally, in the most severe famines, Maasai could merge temporarily with neighboring Dorobo hunters and gatherers. During the twentieth century, as the area that is suitable for hunting has contracted and as opportunities for employment have opened up, many of those whom circumstances have squeezed out of the Maasai pastoral economy have drifted toward the fringes of urban society, seeking employment—notably as security guards.

Industrial Arts. Blacksmiths, especially in the past, produced spears and ornaments. Associated with the dirt of their craft, they were despised and not allowed to intermarry with Maasai, who were not involved with blacksmithing.

Trade. Traditionally, sheep and goats were traded with neighboring peoples for vegetable produce. Although the opportunity to migrate for wage labor had been available earlier, it was not until the 1960s that Maasai, who traditionally sold their stock only from absolute necessity, entered the monetary economy; they remain essentially self-sufficient.

Division of Labor. Boys herd the stock, assisted by older males and girls as the need arises, and under the overall supervision of the family head. At night, responsibility for the herds passes to the women. Women also look after their dependent children, maintain the domestic supply of firewood and water, and milk the cattle. Warriors are expected to defend the herds.

Land Tenure. Each tribal section claims sole grazing rights in its own territory, and individual elders may develop and claim wells for watering stock. In times of need, however, it is a major premise that Maasai land and water belong ultimately to all Maasai and that no one should be denied access, even across the boundaries between tribal sections. This principle conflicts with two economic trends that began in the 1960s and have been steadily gaining force, which entail a shift toward local ownership of land: the encroachment of agriculture and the government's attempts to confine Maasai to group ranches. Neither of these developments is consistent with the erratic nature of droughts.

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Jun 14, 2016 @ 11:11 am
hello, is it possible to have more information about how they communicate and how they have been converted to a more occidental life?

Thank you so much
Nattalie Adhiambo
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Aug 3, 2020 @ 4:16 pm
The economic structure of the maasai's during the pre-colonial period

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