The Maasai are one of the best known tribes in Tanzania. By nature, they are nomadic livestock herders and move to greener pastures as need be.

Cows play an extremely vital role in their day to day lives and the Maasai believe that God gave the them all the cattle in the world and that cattle represents a sacred bond between man and God. There is a strong hierarchy amongst the Maasai and each individual has his or her place within the community.

But today I want to talk about housing and shelter in the Maasai culture. Due to the fact that the Maasai have to be ready to move at any given time, their houses are built to be temporary.

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Interestingly, the men are not responsible for building the houses but it’s the women who take charge of this duty. Only the pregnant and elderly women are excused from building duties. The elder ladies do however instruct and teach the younger generation on how to build good and stable houses.

All materials used for building are natural and collected from nearby areas. The huts are usually circular or oval shaped. The first step is to build the frame which is done by fixing gathered timber poles into the ground. Thereafter, the poles are interlaced with a lattice of smaller branches which are then plastered with a mixture of water, mud, cow dung and even human urine. Finishing touches are done with a mix of cow dung and water.

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The next step is the roof, which is also plastered with cow dung and then covered with grass that is collected in the bush. The cow dung is what makes the roof waterproof.

Roughly 3 x 5 m in size and with a height of approx. 1.5 m the houses are generally quite small. But they serve their purpose and families cook, sleep, eat, socialises and store reserves, fuel and even small livestock in there. It is very dark inside as apart from a few tiny round holes in the walls, there are no windows. There are usually 2 beds – one for the parents and the other for the children. Each woman is responsible for her own hut and she is also in charge of renovations. The building process can take anything from a few days to a few weeks and depends on how many helpers there are and if all the material is available.

All houses together make up a boma that is usually surrounded by a large thorn fence. In addition, a much smaller thorn fence is built in the midst of the huts where the livestock can safely rest at night.