For centuries young Maasai men have practiced a traditional rite of passage to manhood: hunting and killing lions. Now, with too many people and too few lions, the Menye Layiok or “cultural fathers” and Big Life Foundation have created a history-changing alternative: an organised Maasai sports competition based upon traditional warrior skills.
Instead of killing lions as a way to gain recognition, express bravery, impress girlfriends and identify leaders, this series of events allows young Maasai men a different avenue for competition: sport. The first event was held in 2012 and hailed a success. 13 December 2014 will see the second such event, where Maasai warriors from across the Amboseli ecosystem will come together to compete for medals, cash prizes and prestige - not number of lions killed.
Six regional competitions form the build-up, where each of the 4 manyattas (warrior villages) compete against each other in the competition events. This provides an opportunity for a conservation dialogue with the warriors, whose traditional job is to protect livestock and the community from threats such as lions. It also gives a chance for spectators to watch their brothers and sons compete.
Five of the six regional competitions have already been concluded this year. But in preparation for the December finals, the warriors continue to practice and hone their skills in the 200m sprint, 800m sprint, 5000m run, rungu (wooden club) throwing for accuracy, spear throwing for distance, and the main event, Maasai style vertical high jump.
We are honoured again, just as in 2012, to have Kenyan Olympic 800m gold medalist David Rudisha as the Patron of the 2014 Maasai Olympics.
Although the event is focused on the young male warriors, Maasai women & girls are an important component of conservation success as they are often the ones inciting the warriors to hunt lions. As such they also participate on Olympics Day in two racing events.
“In truth, this programme is very successful and we are now doing something honourable.
We used to celebrate lion hunting but this programme has shown us a better celebration.”
- Iltuati Warrior/Massai Olympics Athlete 2012