Almost Married to Maasai: Experiences with Tanzanian Men
A mirage of hums, chants, and other sounds I thought were impossible to make with a person’s vocal chords echoed outside my hotel window in Arusha, Tanzania. I peered out hesitantly and concluded it was a tribe of Maasai men enthusiastically welcoming us to their culture. These men clad with red and blue-checkered material jumped in unison, holding cane-like sticks in their hand.
From the beginning I was uneasy about their intentions of dancing with mostly young American girls. My whole group was standing, watching, and appreciating their bizarre hip thrusting and high jumps when they began to pull certain people into the fun. They would take off a part of the wardrobe, which basically means one sheet of fabric and wrap it around us to formally invite us to the dance party.
Thirty minutes and a few gallons of sweat later I was being proposed to. And not in the way we Westerners think a proposal should go.
One man in particular took a liking to me. He taught me some dance moves, and we were grooving. I guess I impressed him, because in no time he was removing his jewelry from around his neck and placing it around mine. My new white, beaded necklace with metal cutouts lining the jewelry jingled as I continued to dance with my new friend. At least I thought he was just a friend.
Thirty minutes and a few gallons of sweat later I was being proposed to. And not in the way we Westerners think a proposal should go. There was no ring, no getting down on one knee, no grand gesture of love, no love at all in fact. Instead there was just a bold promise that his family had a lot of cows. Cows are king in Maasai culture. They represent wealth. Cows are just another form of currency for the Maasai and a Maasai man cannot get married without the common farm animal.
After about twenty minutes of him calling me “his love,” I firmly stated I was not ready for a marriage of any kind. Rather than accepting my rejection, he continued on—offering me more cows. He told me that although he, himself, had no cows, his father had many cows. The fact that his father had many cows is usually an indication that he has many wives. In Maasai culture polygamy is very common, especially in the areas where the Maasai stick to their traditional roots. It took a while, but finally he grasped my rejection and moved on.
Rather than accepting my rejection, he continued on—offering me more cows. He told me that although he, himself, had no cows, his father had many cows. The fact that his father had many cows is usually an indication that he has many wives.
About five minutes later I ran into him again; this time he was talking to my friend Caitie. Once I walked up he got a sudden look of guilt on his face. Little did I know, he had already moved on and was now proposing to my friend. We joke together that we could have been sister wives, but I almost think this Maasai was being at least partly serious. I do believe that if I had wanted to he would have gladly accepted me as his wife.
At the time I was laughing and not taking the situation too seriously, but reflecting back on that night I have realized that these Maasai men were all very eligible bachelors who would have jumped on the chance to marry a mzungu (white person). As fascinating as the Maasai family structure is, I am very grateful that when I decide if I want to get married, there are no cows, just love.
America’s Unofficial Ambassadors (AUA) is a citizen diplomacy initiative dedicated to increasing the number of Americans who volunteer in the Muslim World. Unofficial Ambassadors volunteer with grassroots organizations in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East to meet some of the Muslim World’s most urgent development needs in areas such as education, youth services, and civil society. Almost Married to Maasai: Experiences with Tanzanian Men