In and out of the Maasai Steppe

Publisher: Best Red
Availability:in stock 1000 item(s)
Width: 148MM
Height: 210MM

About the book

In and out of the Maasai Steppe looks at the Maasai women in the Maasai Steppe of Tanzania. The book explores their current plight – threatened by climate change – in the light of colonial history and post-independence history of land seizures.

The book documents the struggles of a group of women to develop new livelihood income through their traditional beadwork. Voices of the women are shared as they talk about how it feels to share their husband with many co-wives, and the book examines gender, their beliefs, social hierarchy, social changes and in particular the interface between the Maasai and colonials.

About the authors

Joy Stephens is a social researcher and development practitioner by profession and has worked for 35 years in international development in a number of countries.


On maps of Tanzania it is marked by a void, a vacant spot south of Mount Kilimanjaro where cartographic symbols disappear. There are no roads, no rivers, no settlements – no geography worthy of note, or so it appears. 

Welcome to the Maasai Steppe.

Imagine a vast vacant lot stretching from far horizon to far horizon, featureless save for a long low ridge and a solitary summit in the distance. Into this space shake a sprinkling of thorn bushes – you can be generous so long as their thorns are sufficiently vicious to repel goats and antelope.

As you swivel around it appears that this land is uninhabited.  Your gaze falls on some distant pastel mountains and you wonder whether these too are a mirage - like the string of lakes ahead that shimmer in the heated sand. You get back into your 4 wheel drive vehicle (for if you are a mzungu with white skin that is how youtravel there), and as you drive on, leaving a billowing cloud of dust in your wake, a red-robed figure comes running out of what appears to be a thicket of thorn brush, but which you belatedly realize is a circle of huts.

The red-robed Maasai leaps directly into your path and flaps his arms frantically. It must be a medical emergency. You slam on the brakes and your vehicle and he are engulfed in a whirlwind of dust.

When it clears he is smiling. "Welcome," he says.

"Thank you.  You have a problem?"

"Thank you. Welcome again. No problem." He holds out his hand and shakes yours three times with the alternating grip of the African bush.

"Thanks.  You're sure there's no problem?  I'll be going on then."

You rev the engine, but you can't move forward because he is leaning heavily on the open window of the car, and has inserted the whole of his head and shoulders inside.

"This is the first vehicle for two weeks," he informs you, wishing to expand the conversation while his eyes rove around the interior. He spots an almost empty bottle of mineral water – essential survival kit for mzungu who enter the Maasai Steppe. "Do you want that?"

You shake your head and he tucks the bottle inside his robe.

"Look, I'm sorry, I have to be going. It will be dark soon."

It is then he draws his trump card: "I need a lift."

You have fallen for the trap. You try to think of an excuse. "Where do you need to get to?"

"Where are you going?"

"No - I asked first. Where are you going?"

It is a game. For both you and he know that it doesn't matter where you are going. 

Anywhere will do for him. Any distance near or far, in the comfort of your air-conditioned 4WD.  Whatever destination you mention will happen to be just the place he is planning to go to. He had no plans before he saw your car, but since you happened to pass by his stretch of scrub, he will seize the opportunity. He is bound to know someone where you are going.

"I'm not passing back this way for over a week."

He laughs with relief, and arranges his long legs and stick in the front seat with a jangle of sequined beads.  If you don't want to give him a lift, you will have to think of a better excuse than that.  A wait of seven days is no deterrent. Time is the one resource the Maasai Steppe has in plenty.  But he is big and strong and will come in handy with a spanner - and punctures are a common punishment to cars that venture into the Maasai Steppe.

He is smiling and having fun with the electric window as you rattle over the sandy track, heading westwards into the dying sun, which transforms the thorn bushes of the Maasai Steppe into a gallery of exotic art.