Stories of the Kuria Tribe

By Wandering Maasai | 22 June 2016

By Stuart Butler

In 2015, whilst researching a book on contemporary Maasai life (see, myself and a Maasai friend, Josphat Mako, walked for five weeks across a part of Kenya’s Maasai lands. Along the way, we stopped to talk to as many Maasai elders as possible during which I always asked them to tell me tales of the old ways.

The Stories of The Maasai

I loved these conversations. Sitting in the dark, womb-like interior of a smoke-filled hut listening to their stories of cattle raids and lion hunts, encounters with wildlife and the changes brought by technology, conservation and tourism. Again and again though, as we talked of the infamous Maasai cattle raids or the art of stealing cows from neighbouring tribes, I heard the word ‘Kuria’ mentioned. It was a word I’d heard many times over the years and I knew that the Kuria were one of the many tribal groups of Kenya and Tanzania, but that was really about the limit of my knowledge.

Meeting the Kuria Tribe

With spears and red shukas (robes), the Maasai are so intrinsically linked to the Serengeti and Maasai Mara that most people are completely unaware of another major tribal group whose homeland often overlaps that of the Maasai living in the western parts of the Serengeti and Mara. The Kuria (Koria, Wakuria, Abakuria) peoples number around a million and are spread almost equally between Kenya and Tanzania and, so my discussions with Maasai elders in Kenya indicated, the Kuria seemed to be the victims of choice when the Maasai moran (warriors) went cattle raiding. As far as I could tell most Maasai seemed to hold the Kuria with a certain degree of contempt. They were, after all, a Bantu farming people. But alongside that there were also traces of respect for their fighting prowess and use of poisoned arrows.

An example of this kind of respectful contempt for the Kuria can be seen in the conversation Josphat and I had one morning with Sankale Ntutu from Kenya’s Maji Moto region. Sankale looks, like so many Maasai men who’ve grown old walking the bush, middle-aged and fighting fit, but he claimed to be a “very old man”. He spoke in a slow, clear and precise voice and seemed to think about every word he said. Today he’s the age-group leader for the Maasai of the Maji Moto area and this position means that he’s politically connected. Politics though are not his interest. Instead, he prefers to talk about Maasai culture and history and his real passion was talking about his past as a Maasai moran (warrior).

A Tale of Cattle Raiding

I asked him to describe his first cattle raid to me, “There were thirty-eight of us and we walked to Tanzania, past the Serengeti, to raid the Kuria people. Before we launched the raid we covered ourselves and our spears in a special mixture of herbs which protects us and makes sure we do not accidently kill the innocent, because it’s a crime to do this. Normally raids are done at night but the laibon (Maasai spiritual leader and a figure who is always consulted before a cattle raid) told us that this time we should do it in the daytime when the cattle were drinking. He had seen what would happen using his powers and he said that if we tried to raid at night or too early in the morning then we would be finished because the Kuria would be alert. The laibon said that in the middle of the day there would be only one man guarding the cows and that he had only one eye so wouldn’t be able to see us well. But he told us not to kill him, but just to take him prisoner, tie him up and leave him by the river. The laibon said this man had very poisonous arrows so we had to be careful. He also warned us not to take too many cows from this first herd because more herds of cows would be following on behind. The next lot of cows would be led by two girls and from this herd we should take only another few cows. The third herd would be led by some men who would just disappear when they saw us. From this herd, we could take as many as we wanted. And this is exactly what happened, except that we made a mistake and we let the two girls go and they ran and told the police what happened. When we got back to the border of Kenya and Tanzania the police were there waiting for us. But we were clever and we lit a big fire to distract them. We let some of the grass of the Serengeti burn! The police were then too busy trying to put out the flames to bother with us. It was a big fire and it took them two days to put it out and while they did that we got the cows over the border. Here we split into small groups and each of us led five cows so that we could avoid attracting the attention of the Kenyan police who were also now looking for us”.

Welcome to Mbalibali Village

Nearly a year after this conversation I found myself pulling up into the muddy centre of the Kuria farming village of Mbalimbali, a name that means ‘the sun rays’ in the Kuria language. My arrival had been expected and ten or so villagers, dressed in ostrich feathers, leopard skin cloaks, wooden clogs and a rainbow of beaded jewellery and clashing colours, launched into an energetic, head rolling, shoulder bopping, clogged foot-stamping dance routine in order to welcome me into their village.

When the dancing fun came to a sweaty end we all piled into the cool shade of a cement block building and started to talk. After hearing so many stories about the Kuria from the Maasai point of view I was keen to learn what the Kuria thought of the Maasai. But first, I wanted to know where the Kuria had originally come from.

Most ethnic groups in Africa have some form of migration myth that often seems to involve a certain amount of magic, but I was surprised to learn that for the Kuria this didn’t really seem to be the case and in fact there was a certain amount of confusion as to their past. Everyone present knew that they were a Bantu peoples (unlike the Nilotic Maasai) and all were certain that the Kuria had arrived in the areas between Lake Victoria and the Serengeti just a few generations ago. After that though there was far more uncertainty. One old man, the oldest in the village, said he remembered as a child moving from Tanzania into Kenya to escape the German overlords of Tanzania from making his family build roads and then returning to Tanzania once the German work threat was gone. Although seeing as the German colonial period ended with World War One, I had a few doubts as to the accuracy of his memory.

Kuria Origins

Foggy recollections or not, the reality is that nobody actually knows where the Kuria originally came from and the name Kuria has only been in use for about sixty years. It’s likely though that the ancestors of the Kuria arrived in the Mt Elgon region of Kenya/Uganda from areas further west in the mid-16th Century before, slowly, moving south to their present homeland between Lake Victoria and the Serengeti.

The conversation dug itself deeper into murky history before turning to the more certain topic of their superiority over their arch-enemies the Maasai. Today, relations are cordial between the two groups, “We can have breakfast together and some Maasai watch our cows and we theirs”, but this is a very recent state of affairs that occurred only after a peace was brokered in 1996. Today Kuria and Maasai are often found working together in the safari industry (many Asilia Africa camps in this area employ both and this alone has done much to create positive relations between the two groups) but when I asked if there was ever now intermarriage between the groups there was a general gasp of horror and head shaking until one man jokingly said “Well it depends. If it’s a pretty Maasai girl then it’s okay!

Pretty girls though can’t erase memories of the past (well not always anyway) and when I asked if any of the assembled group had ever been victim of a Maasai cattle raid a sprightly eighty-four-year-old man recalled how one night, back when he was very young, about eighteen Maasai moran raided his boma, killing about six or seven members of his extended family and stealing one hundred cattle. The Maasai, he said, came armed with spears and he remembered being very frightened and hiding inside one of the huts. And did the Kuria ever raid the Maasai bomas? “Oh yes”, came the general reply, “Several times we men here went on raids in Kenya. One time we took many Maasai cows, but rather than fight, the Maasai told the police and the Kenyan police took the cows back off us. But we waited a year or two and then went back to Kenya and took the cows again”.

I asked if any of the men present had ever killed any Maasai during a raid and straight away one man proudly said, “Yes, I have killed many of them. These Maasai moran think they are very strong. But they’re not very clever. They came with spears, but we had guns!” It was a story I have since taken great pleasure in retelling to Maasai friends…

The post Stories of the Kuria Tribe appeared first on Asilia Africa.

  • What is included in an Asilia safari?

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    In addition to daily game drives, East Africa boasts many activities, including climbing Kilimanjaro, hot-air ballooning, walking safaris, meaningful cultural experiences and relaxing on the beach amongst others.

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    If you're thinking of bringing your teenager on safari, you may have a few questions so here's a quick guide to taking teens on safari.

    It is worth noting that some of our camps can unfortunately not accommodate children under the age of 5. Feel free to get in touch with us to confirm which of our camps are suitable for smaller children.

  • How does the weather influence a safari?

    While a safari holiday can be had at any time of year, it is worth noting that seasonality will impact the type of experience you’re likely to have as well as the cost of your safari.

    During the dry season, the wildlife tends to congregate around the few remaining watering holes. Vegetation at this time is sparse making the animals easier to spot.
    The wet season is abundant both in vegetation and wildlife, as this is the birthing season – which means predators come out in force to prey on vulnerable newborns.

    Whichever season you choose to travel in, rest assured that our camps are well equipped for the East African climate and to ensure your comfort at all times. We've compiled a month-by-month guide to safaris in East Africa, read more here.

  • What happens on a game drive?

    Game drives are an integral part of any safari. You’ll head out into the wilderness with your trained and knowledgeable guide in one of our specialised vehicles. We have both closed and open-sided vehicles and try to have no more than six guests in one vehicle, so everyone is guaranteed a window seat for the best view of the action. Our vehicles also have the added benefit of charging stations to ensure your gadgetry is never at a loss, and a cooler to ensure you’ll have a cold beverage or two along the way.

    We now have one of the first electric safari vehicles available at Ol Pejeta Bush Camp as well as an incredibly nifty photographic safari vehicle that is available for guests on request. Private vehicles can also be arranged in advance at an additional cost.

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    All of our camps do have basic wifi available in certain areas.It is important to note that while wifi is available, it is more than likely not at the same fast speeds that you may be used to, but sufficient for checking emails and keeping in touch with home.

  • Can I charge my phone? What type of plugs do I need?

    Electricity is available at 220/240 volts AC, 50 Hz. Primary Socket Type: British BS- 1363 (British Standard). Adaptor plugs will be available in some lodges but we advise that you bring at least one with you.Please be aware that the power supply is subject to cuts and voltage fluctuations even in major cities!On safari, most of the lodges are powered by generators or solar panels and these are often turned off during parts of the day and night to reduce noise and fuel consumption. Please also note that in most camps and lodges, power sockets for charging are only available in the main area.

  • What is the accommodation like?

    Most of our camps feature stylish and authentic tented suites in keeping with the classic safari experience. Each tent has a main bedroom with an ensuite shower, toilet and basin, decorated to reflect an authentic safari style while providing the necessary amenities and furnishings to provide a comfortable retreat.

  • What toiletries are included?

    Shampoo, conditioner, body wash, hand wash, and body lotions are all provided in camp. Please do note that hairdryers are only available at Matemwe and Sayari Camp. This is because, in the bush, electricity is a precious resource and is supplied largely from solar power and generators, so not all of our camps can support hairdryers.

  • What are the tipping guidelines?

    Please note that gratuities are completely at your own discretion and are much appreciated by our staff for service that went above and beyond your expectations. As a guideline, we suggest tipping your guide between US$5 and US$15 per group (depending on group size) and the camp staff between US$5 and US$10 per traveller per day. Tipping is usually done on departure from your camp. You can tip your guide in person and the camp staff collectively using the tip box found in the public area of most of our camps. Tips can be made in Tanzanian Shillings, US Dollars, Euros or Pound Sterling.

  • What is the Great Wildebeest Migration?

    The Great Wildebeest Migration is the largest animal migration in the world. Every year, more than 2 million animals (wildebeest, zebra, and gazelle) migrate in a clockwise direction across the ecosystems of the Serengeti (Tanzania) and the Masai Mara (Kenya). On the way, they have to cross crocodile-infested rivers, are hunted by predators, and face natural disasters such as droughts and flooding in a daily struggle for survival.

    Asilia Africa operates a number of camps specifically along the route of the migration to offer you a front-row seat to all the migration action. For example, Sayari Camp is located close to many of the Mara River crossing points in the Northern Serengeti. We have three mobile camps in the Serengeti which move to two or three locations in a year to ensure proximity to the action of the migration, while other camps are in a fixed location and offer additional amenities such as swimming pools.

    Still feel like you need to know more about The Great Migration? Read this blog post for everything you need to know about the Migration.

  • Which is the best camp for the Great Wildebeest Migration?

    Since the Great Migration sees the herds migrate slowly over a route thousands of kilometres long, the best camp for experiencing it will largely depend on the time of year. In addition, although the animals broadly follow the same ancient migratory route every year, there are occasional variations based on environmental or weather conditions, such as the rainfall in a given year.

    For this reason, Asilia Africa has permanent camps that cover the traditional migration route as well as semi-permanentcamps which are moved 2 to 3 times a year to ensure prime game viewing.

  • What is the best time to see the Great Wildebeest Migration?

    The Great Migration can be enjoyed year round. Different times of year and location will offer different encounters, so it’s a good idea to work closely with your travel agent to ensure you plan the ideal migration safari to suit your needs.

    The first few months of the year offer exceptional predator encounters in the Serengeti as this is the calving season for the wildebeest and newborns make for an easy kill.

    By July, the herds are heading into the central Serengeti where the wildebeest make their first river crossing, and take their chances against the waiting (and hungry) crocodiles.

    In August, the herds cross over into Kenya’s Masai Mara and by September, the big herds have fragmented into smaller groups. The last few months of the year bring the short rains, causing the Wildebeest to move back into the Serengeti where the animals brace themselves for the next calving season and predator attacks.

    You can read more here about what to expect from the migration each month as well as which of our camps are best positioned to enjoy this spectacle at those times of year.

  • Are all Asilia Camps open year-round?

    You can enjoy a safari with Asilia all year round, however, the season will influence the kind of experience you’re likely to have. To get an idea of what the different months have to offer, have a look here. If your dates are not flexible, drop us a line and we’ll structure the ideal safari to suit your needs.

  • How do I choose which camp to visit?

    Choosing your ideal safari will generally depend on a combination of the following factors: who you are travelling with (e.g. are you going with your family), where you want to go (e.g. Kenya or Tanzania), what you would like to see (e.g. Great Migration) and any special activities you are interested in doing (e.g. hot air ballooning or climbing Kilimanjaro).

    You can narrow down your choices using our safari tools for where to go and what to do, or you could check out some of our itineraries to get you started with some ideas.

    We’d love to hear from you so we can create the perfect safari to suit your needs.

  • Where are Asilia’s camps?

    We specialise in Kenya and Tanzania, home to some of the highest concentrations of wildlife in the world. Our camps are positioned in prime locations ranging from the world famous Serengeti and Masai Mara, through to critical private conservancies, as well as more pioneering areas somewhat off the beaten track.

    Kenya: Greater Maasai Mara, Mara Naboisho Conservancy & Ol Pejeta Conservancy

    Tanzania: Serengeti, Ngorongoro, Ruaha, Rubondo, The Selous, & Tarangire

    Zanzibar: Matemwe

  • How do I choose between Kenya or Tanzania?

    If you have more time available for your holiday, the bordering countries of Kenya and Tanzania can easily be combined with each other as well as with other nearby places like Uganda, Rwanda and Zanzibar. If you are going on a shorter trip (less than 10 nights is a fair guideline), choosing which country to enjoy will depend on what you want to see and do. For example, if you’re planning a migration safari, your destination of choice will be largely dependent on where the wildebeest are at your chosen time of travel.

    To provide you with the best advice tailored to your particular travel needs, we recommend contacting your preferred travel agent or simply enquire with us and we’ll get right back to you.

  • Can I combine my safari with a trip to Zanzibar?

    Definitely - Zanzibar is a great addition to any safari itinerary or even just as an idyllic escape on its own!

  • What are meals like on safari?

    Meals on safari feature wholesome homemade dishes with a hint of local flavour. We take great pride in growing our own fresh, organic produce wherever possible and supporting local communities.

    Our camp chefs are able to cater to any dietary requirements with advance notice, including preparing gluten free, dairy free, vegan, and halaal meals.

    Lunch is usually a buffet featuring fresh salads and meaty mains, while dinner is a 3-course meal served beneath the stars. Dishes feature beef, chicken or fish, and wholesome organic produce with a hint of local spices and flavours. You can read more about Asilia's culinary experience here.

  • What is the accommodation on an Asilia safari like?

    Most of our camps feature stylish and authentic tented suites in keeping with the classic safari experience. Each tent has a main bedroom with a shower, toilet and basin, decorated to reflect the local cultures while providing the necessary amenities and furnishings to provide a comfortable retreat. Do not worry about packing in shampoo, conditioner, body wash, or lotion - these are all provided for you in camp.

    Please note, all laundry in camp is done by hand and dried outdoors, therefore turnaround time is dependant on the weather. Out of respect to local culture and customs, we do not wash underwear. Washing powder is provided in all of our guest rooms should guests wish to wash their own.

  • What is included in the price of my safari?

    The overall cost of your safari can vary depending on a range of factors including seasonality, activities, any special offers that may apply as well as other factors.

    Generally, a safari at Asilia’s properties will cost you anything from USD $450 per person, per night, and upwards. Your accommodation costs are all-inclusive, which means that all meals, local alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, and game drives with our expert guides are included.

    For a more accurate estimate, it’s best to contact a safari specialist travel agent who can package an itinerary to suit your needs and budget. Alternatively, you can get in touch with us.

  • Can I book my safari directly with Asilia?

    We handle our booking process through a trusted group of highly experienced East Africa safari experts. We operate this way due to there being many nuances involved in planning a well-arranged, unforgettable safari holiday in East Africa. We know through experience that this is simply the best way to ensure our guests enjoy a seamless trip matched to their individual needs. Due to the volumes handled by these agents, they’ll also ensure you get the best possible overall price. If you’re thinking of joining us on a trip to East Africa and you are not currently working with an agent, simply enquire on our website and we’ll arrange for the best agent matched to your needs to tailor-make the ideal itinerary to suit all your needs.

    If you're unsure whether to book far in advance or not, this blog post may help provide some clarity.

  • How do I get from the airport to your camps?

    Getting around in East Africa requires significantly more planning than other destinations. Distances can be large; roads may be few. Our safari experts know their way around and can arrange all the transfers you require.

  • What are the vaccination requirements?

    Certain vaccinations may be required for travel to Africa, for example, often you will need a yellow fever vaccination. To be sure, consult your travel agent and your local Travel Clinic to obtain the latest health travel advisories. Concerning Visas, your travel agent will help there too.

  • What are the visa requirements?

    Kindly consult your relevant embassy for full details of visa requirements. Please indicate clearly that Asilia Africa is the DMC / ground handler and not the address of first overnight stay.

    For addresses and telephone numbers please visit our "contact us" page and either use Kenya (Nairobi) or Tanzania (Arusha) information depending on which country you are visiting.

  • What are the points of entry to get to your camps?

    For International visitors, the following apply:

    Kenya: Nairobi
    Tanzania: Dar es Salaam or Kilimanjaro Airport

  • Help! I’m planning my first safari. Where do I start?

    One way to start researching is by reading up more on the different safari destinations to visit, such as Tanzania or Kenya.  We also have some handy tools to help you along, including our camp finder and our experiences page. Another great place to draw inspiration from and to whet your appetite is by browsing our list of itineraries. These can be booked as-is, or customised to suit your needs.

    We recommend talking to a specialist East Africa consultant who will assist you with your plans.  In addition, they’ll be able to arrange your transfers, flights, and any additional activities you require. If you do not already have an agent, simply enquire with us and we’ll put you in touch with one of our trusted East Africa specialists.

    Find out more about what to expect on your first safari with us here.

  • Can I still go on safari if I have special medical needs?

    A safari can be suitable for a wide range of ages and physical conditions. With advanced notice, our camps are capable of catering to certain special requirements, so it’s best to advise your travel specialist early on in your booking process.

  • Are safaris suitable for people in wheelchairs?

    Some of our camps are accessible by wheelchair. It’s best to chat to your consultant as they will be able to advise which of our camps with be most suitable.

  • What do I pack for my holiday?

    There are a few handy items you won’t want to forget when going on safari such as a hat and sunblock to name a few. However, it is important to note that certain light aircraft transfer flights will have a smaller and stricter luggage limit. Please note, all laundry in camp is done by hand and dried outdoors, therefore turnaround time is dependant on the weather. Out of respect to local culture and customs, we do not wash underwear. Washing powder is provided in all of our guest rooms should guests wish to wash their own.

    Do not worry about packing in shampoo, conditioner, body wash, or lotion - these are all provided for you in camp. You can read our recommendations on everything from clothing to photography to toiletries in this blog post.

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