Mindy Budgor, a white Jewish American, claims to be the "first female Maasai warrior."
Have women not always existed in this community? Are Maasai women not strong and brave enough to become warriors?
Western historians, anthropologists and adventures have written volumes about the Maasai. Beginning with Joseph Thomson, the first European to travel through Maasailand in 1883, to the missionaries such as Ludwig Karpf and Rev. John Rebmann, and 'admirers' like Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen), outsiders have come to Maasailand seeking to fulfill their own interests and desires. Sadly, their subsequent representations of Maasai life are often far from accurate and misrepresent a people's culture and heritage. Yet writers like these and others have had a profound effect on the culture and the lives of Maasai people.
Dinesen's depiction of the Maasai warrior as "a fine sight" sparked romanticization of the Maasai culture across the western world, attracting even more anthropologists, adventurers and with them, exploitation. Wealthy white women looking for something more intriguing or missionaries looking for a quick revelation for their calling found what they were looking for in Maasailand. Outsiders came to our land, got excited, discovered themselves, left with captivating stories and pictures, wrote memoirs, books and films, and of course became experts in diagnosing and treating our problems as they define them. And then what? Back to their comfortable lives in their homelands enjoying the proceeds from books documenting their exploits. The Maasai community is left to deal with the devastating effects of these intruders.
Mindy's memoir falls in line with this sickening history of cultural fraud. Mindy's narrative wants us to believe that her "quest" was called for by Maasai women. She says Maasai women have wanted to be warriors for generations and failed. Yet somehow a foreigner has managed to change this critical, centuries-old cultural law in a matter of 90 days! Mindy's claims are deceptive and demean the daily struggles and cultural wars we Maasai women have fought to be where we are today. Does she mean our grandfathers, fathers, brothers, husbands and sons doubt our capabilities? Or do they not respect us or love us enough to allow us to be warriors, something we supposedly "wanted" for "generations?" Yet they are happy to grant this privilege to an American "girl?"
Truth is, we have not tried to be warriors and failed. We are comfortable with the organization of our culture as long as it does not hinder us from achieving our potentials.
In fact, the Maasai warrior system is much more deep and complex than Mindy's little adventure in the bush can begin to suggest. The process takes an average of 15 years and not every man who goes through it claims the title of Olmurrani (warrior). In the original culture, this system formed the complete government of the society. There has never been a single ruler of the Maasai. The community was organized and governed according to large clans (iloshon) and age-group systems (olporror). Warriors performed military functions to protect the community from external attack and to bring wealth through cattle rustling, among other functions.
Perhaps most importantly for this discussion, women have always played an essential role in the warrior system. No man becomes a warrior without women officiating the process. Mothers are crucial to early stages of warriorhood and mothers and/or wives are central to the later stages. In fact, young girls accompanied warriors to the feasting camp in the bush (olpul).
Mindy and like-minded folks don't care to understand that Maasai are proud members of a global community. We are in the business of fighting 21st century wars just like everybody else. We are fighting for a modern stable economy, for a world-class education for our boys and girls, quality healthcare, etc. Cultural preservation is key, but we want to do it in accordance with today's reality. A 21st century warrior is well equipped to engage in these battles. On this front, Maasai women have acquired the weaponry, mastered the skill and fully engaged in the fight. Maasai woman who have gotten an education, owned a business, ascended to a political office -- whatever the fight -- all have a common story of struggle, bravery, sheer determination and courage. Are they not warriors?
Quite simply, the Maasai community is not lacking in female warriors. Our warrior spirit has always existed and continues to exist within Maasai women everywhere. We go to school, in fact we earn PhDs from universities worldwide. Dr. Kakenya Ntayia, a 2013 CNN Hero and Teriano Lesancha, the first girl from Lood-ariak village to earn a university degree, are real warriors. We are entrepreneurs and business owners too, and yes we play a major role in building our nations. Peris Tobiko, the Kenyan member of Parliment for Kajiado East and the first Maasai woman to succeed in electoral politics, is a real warrior.
We are not looking for a spokeswoman. Mindy does not represent us. She does not understand our struggles and cannot speak for us. We have a voice, and we stand up to speak for what matters to us: education for our girls, equal opportunities and economic empowerment for our women, decent healthcare, and clean water.