Once in a lifetime

Honey Beer and the Holidays with the Maasai in Kenya

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by Katy Leakey

Maasai children wake up early on the 25th of December and excitedly urge their parents to hurry as they make tea and cook breakfast so they can open the presents. They have been preparing for this holiday for months by making presents for each other; beaded jewelry, belts, bags, calabashes, toys and body adornment for the children. After the present opening, clans gather for the feast of roasted meat, potatoes and potent honey beer.

The Maasai are a pastoral group of people that live in the magnificent Great Rift Valley of Kenya and Tanzania. A tall, proud, and graceful people adorned in colorful clothing and ornaments, the Maasai still keep their traditions intact - herding cattle and living off the land as modernization changes the world around them. They are known to be a culture with close community and family ties and who love to celebrate all occasions in a big way; so they naturally adopted Christmas into their culture as yet another wonderful celebration and embraced it with relish.

In the months approaching Christmas, the Maasai are busy making presents, planning events, cleaning their finest of everything, scrubbing the houses, repairing the grounds, getting out the jewelry and shopping for new kikoys, the European version of a shuka- Maasai fabric, to wear. The air is full of excitement. Bees love the blooming acacia trees, and produce the most flavorful of all the honeys in the world. This honey is then used to produce honey beer- a common holiday beverage at Maasai celebrations.

The Maasai fill the season with several harambees, a Kenyan party reminiscent of an American wedding or baby shower where gifts and money are given. The harambee was originally introduced by Jomo Kenyatta, the first president of Kenya, as a way to raise money to build schools. Over time, the harambee has expanded into a Kenyan tradition to raise money and gifts for weddings, hospital expenses, school fees, and other occasions. The Maasai adopted the county's custom and use it liberally.

When you wake up Christmas morning, think for just a moment about the Maasai half a world away. Cuddling exhausted children, patting stomachs full of meat, drowsy with libation, and admiring their lovely presents with family all around.

About the Author: Katy Leakey and her husband Philip live among the Maasai in the Kenyan bush. In 2001, the couple founded The Leakey Collection to provide employment opportunities for her neighbors after a terrible drought ravaged the land. This company utilizes the excellent beading abilities of the Maasai women. To read more about Katy's experiences with the Maasai- visit her Kenya Journal at http://www.leakeylife.com/blog/ If you would like to view some of the beautiful work of the Maasai women, please visit http://www.leakeylife.com/


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