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Maasai Change Brings Hope for the African Lion

Happy New Year!

Philip J. Briggs Lion Paw and Gracey Paw

We are grateful for those that care for all cats, big and small

In 2011, we threw out making resolutions and decided that in 2012 we  wanted to focus on gratitude. One of the things we are grateful for are stories of positive change, of hope and of  a spirit that remind each and every one of us that changes, however small can and do make a difference.  The Maasai and The Lion Guardians are a shining example of how an idea sparked change and is bringing hope for the African Lion.

Three Maasai Children

Three Maasai Children

When a Maasai boy is born, he is given two names, his father’s family name and a given name. The child will carry this name throughout his youth until he reaches the age of 16-18. This is the age that the boy is circumcised and he stops being called by his given name but is addressed by the generic name Moran meaning warrior.

There is tremendous pressure on the young Moran to earn a name to distinguish himself  from the other warriors. Every warrior wants to earn a name that will symbolize his strength, courage and prowess to protect his community.  Traditionally, in Maasai culture, the first warrior to spear a lion in a successful hunt was given a special name that represents the characteristics of both the warrior and the lion he speared. The warrior would be given a name  like Olamayiani meaning the blessed one, or Mingati, meaning one who is fast and doesn’t lag behind.

Maasai in their manyatta

When a warrior would bring back the lion’s mane and tail  to his home, he would be treated as a hero and there would be a celebration. The other warriors who had not yet earned their individual name longed for this same recognition and so they too would dream about the day they would return to their homes with a lion trophy.

Today with the dwindling African lion populations, the Maasai leaders recognize that they too need to change so that future generations will be able to live with lions as they have for centuries.  The killing of lions is now discouraged, and this means that the newly appointed warriors are not given the opportunity to earn themselves a lion name which is something they have dreamed about their entire lives.

The Lion Guardians from Eselenkei group ranch decided to start calling some of the young warriors by lion names, even though they had not yet speared a lion. As a result, the younger boys and girls in the community began calling the young warriors by their new lion names and soon after, the elders of the community joined in. This small experiment showed that the majority of warriors desire for their individual names trumped the desire to spear a lion.

The few warriors that still felt the need to prove themselves by an act of bravery to earn their lion names were given Lion Guardian tasks. Once these warriors could prove that they understood the importance of  African lion conservation and they are able to protect a lion, they are given a lion name that reflects the personality of the lion they are protecting. The young warriors are now celebrated and honored for protecting a lion and not for killing!

Philip J Briggs Guardian and lion paw

This amazing example of how a deeply traditional culture like the Maasai is able to adapt while holding on to their values and ethics of being a Maasai Warrior brings hope not only for the African lion but for every living being. Change for the better is happening every day. We just need to focus on the good and throw out the bad.

I hope you liked this story of hope and promise for a brighter future for our big cat cousins the African lion.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/malia.ragan Malia Ragan

    What a great step forward!

    • Anonymous

      Malia, the Lion Guardians project restores my faith in the future for our big cat cousins and for the human beings ability to adapt along with the ecosystem in which they live.  xoxo

  • http://www.facebook.com/ShadowDanceRanch Elizabeth Flynn

    Yes, Gracey, I do love this story of hope and the promise for a brighter future for all of our big cat cousins. Thank you for sharing it with us :)

    • Anonymous

      Thank you for reading this story of hope for our cousins the African Lion. xoxoxo

  • http://krittersthattwitter.com/ Lisa

    Wow, what a wonderful story and I am right there with you on New Year’s Resolutions.  Throw them out and replace them with gratitude.  A grateful heart will always find new opportunities to add positive value to the world we live.
    Happy New Year

    • Anonymous

      What a wonderful phrase.  A grateful heart will always find new opportunities to add positive value to the world.  I love that.  Thank you for sharing Lisa.  Happy New Year to you too.

  • Mama Tembo

    The discouraging thing is that over this New Year’s weekend the Maasai in Kitengela have killed 3 lions and are threatening to kill all 40 Nairobi National Park lions.  Tradition is almost impossible to change!

    • Nancy Ellis

      Oh no!!! Let’s pray that those with good will and common sense will triumph over those trapped in the past!!! 

      • Anonymous

        Nancy, I too hope that the Maasai that are changing will have a positive influence.  It is truly remarkable what has already been accomplished.

    • Anonymous

      Mama Tembo, yes it can be discouraging.  Hoping that the Lion Guardians can expand to cover all areas where people are living with lions. My hope is that the same model can be employed everywhere people live among carnivores.    Almost is the key word.  If some of the Maasai are willing and set a good example, it is possible.  

  • Magwhisk

    Wow, that is a big change for them, but good for them, being willing to throw out the bad, and save the good!!!  Thanks for sharing this encouraging story!

    • Anonymous

      Big change and encouraging.  Hope is  never lost!

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