The Maasai of East Africa is a strange and mysterious tribe. Mostly known for their brightly colored clothes, shaved heads and houses made of animal dung, they are a semi-nomadic people whose very existence helps sustain the wildlife of East Africa.
Michael Leaf firmly believes any attempts to change the Maasai’s way of life would be a big mistake, and instead insists that we can learn a great deal from them about how to live in harmony with the earth and other living creatures.
Leaf lived with the Maasai people for 10 years, sleeping in their huts, eating their meals, and working alongside them.
Intelligence and humor
After World War II, Michael Leaf moved to Kenya and began working as a hide and skin buyer. For years he lived among the Maasai, the semi-nomadic people living in Kenya and Northern Tanzania.
His new book The Serengeti and the Maasai details his 20 years in Africa and the 10 years spent living and working with these fascinating people.
“I have not heard of any other European who actually lived with the Maasai people for such a long period,” says Leaf. “Far from the image of painted and savage tribesmen, the Maasai are full of intelligence and humor.”
The Serengeti and the Maasai is a firsthand account of life among the Maasai that will help to educate Europeans and Americans about the true character of these people. The book is a wonderful read for people who are curious about the Maasai culture but do not have the patience for an academic, anthropological work.
With the success of the book, Leaf hopes to begin a trust fund that will raise money for windmills that can provide water and for various medicines for the people and their vital livestock.
“Providing funds for medicine, water, and education is not about changing the Maasai culture, but rather about uplifting their standard of life,” adds Leaf. “Trying to change the Maasai would be a terrible mistake. In fact, there is a great deal we can learn from the Maasai about how to treat the earth and all its inhabitants.”
Footprint on the earth
In an interview, Leaf can comment on the Maasai belief system and how it leads to their peaceful co-existence with the land and animals of East Africa as well as:
– Exactly what it is like to live Maasai people for such a long period
– Why wild animals which flourish in Maasai country as opposed to other areas of East Africa.
– Recent famine caused by drought in East Africa
– The lack of planning to ensure that future suffering is kept to a minimum.
– Embracing the lifestyle of the Maasai as a response to climate change.
“As we learn more about our vast footprint on the earth, and the long-lasting effects of modern industry, we can take a lesson from the incredible Maasai people who continue to flourish in their simple and harmonious way of life,” notes Leaf. “Just like it is up to each and every one of us to control our negative impact on the earth, it is also up to us to help preserve the Maasai culture through increased understanding of it. “
Michael Leaf was born in 1929, the year of the great depression. During the Second World War he joined a training ship in Southampton, but was rejected by the Royal Navy due to color blindness. He did clerical work in London during the Blitz, immigrated to Kenya after the war and worked as a hide and skin buyer, surveyor and as a labor manager.
He enlisted in the British Army, served in Egypt, and upon release returned to East Africa where he was employed on a coffee estate, in the desert locust control, the police, became an itinerant trader and worked for the veterinary department, and as a farm manager. He then immigrated to South Africa where he opened a delicatessen and eventually retired as a director of an insurance company. He now lives in Ireland where his beloved wife passed away and keeps himself busy by writing his memoirs.