Lessons from the Elders – The Maasai dance to change the myths of tourism

When I was 16, my father was the most ignorant man in the world. By the time I reached 21, I was surprised at how much he had learned in five years.”  Mark Twain was a man of many words, and a fair few it seems were both accurate and enduring.  It is a right of passage for teenagers to think that the ways of their parents are ill informed and outmoded, but for the young Maasai that can have more of an impact than some misdirected tantrum throwing and grunting, and now Jason Ingamells, owner of Woodland Ways Bushcraft and survival courses, is doing something about it.

photoAn Oloip Maasai Dancer

Having been running a not-for-profit trip to a remote village in the Rift Valley in Kenya for a number of years, Jason has become familiar with the problems that face the newer generations of the Maasai, “There is a huge problem within the Maasai where the young people turn their backs on their way of life and head to the towns where, as they have no or limited education, they invariably fall into homelessness, drugs, and alcohol,” he says.

So he has started a project to direct funding to these remote areas and support community lead projects through a dance troop, the Oloip Maasai Dancers, seeing it as “a very ethical exchange of skill and knowledge,” with the simultaneous aim of “encouraging the younger people of the tribe to remain strong to their culture and traditions”.

The project aims to alleviate problems by showing the genuine Maasai story rather than the popular one hailed by tourism, and using the proceeds to finance practical infrastructure that the community itself has expressed a desire for.  They have already funded a school for 40 children and improved access to water, and goals are to set up project that will support the village in times of drought and hardship (beehives are high on the agenda).

To further grow the success and support for the Oloip Maasai Dancers, this May they are commencing  a UK tour designed to both educate and entertain.

A small but bold step in the right direction, Jason modestly concedes, “We are not trying to change the world, just make a difference to a small community, and to the dance troop (who were all unemployed Maasai previously) and to show that business can be ethical and amazingly adventurous at the same time!”  On which note, he might not be trying to change the world, but it seems like a pretty good place to start.

by Bonnie Friend

The Oloip Maasai Dancers will be performing from 7.30-9.30pm on May 21 at the Royal Geographical Society, London. For tickets, please go here