The Barbaig and Massai

When we left our Safari tour group in Zanizibar our main goal was to set off on our own to discover Tanzania outside the bubble of our overlander; to experience the most out of the land and the people. So we toughed it on public transport, complete with children starring at us, falling asleep on us, sitting next to guys with massive machetes, people elbowing and stepping on us, people putting sacks of beans under our feet and then us helping unload them off the bus.  The usual expected from public transport and we loved it because we were with the people how they usually are - not staged at all.

Further than that we wanted to connect with some of the people who haven’t changed much despite all the changes going on in the cities, these people are what most people refer to as tribes. We have also found though that there are so many staged experiences for tribes around here in Africa, where people might still live in the tribal area but they don’t really keep up with practices and only do them as a show.

We knew going to Babati would be a good place to start as there are cultural tours which sounded authentic; on the way we happened to stay a night in a hostel.

We got to talking with the hostel host and their Massai security guard. We found that they actually do a sort of unofficial tour of the village, well not really a tour he sort of just goes home to see his wife and newborn - and we get to tag along.

We decided we would come with him and spend the night with his family. When we got to the village a few girls were around and sang us a welcome song. It was nice but we still felt a little awkward since we didn’t know if they enjoyed the welcome song. But, we thanked them and walked to the huts. At the center of the huts he started talking to everyone and we had no idea what was really happening. So we sort of blankly starred at the fences built of fallen thorny acacia. We then realized he only called a few people so he could suprise his wife and child. After the surprise he took us to a hut where we sat and talked with his mother while sipping tea. More and more people came to greet us and say hello to our guide. We were surprised that after the shock of being in a mud and thatch hut wore off, just sitting around and chatting felt normal. But then as the night came the young boys brought the goats and cows in for the night and all hell broke loose. My watch had a glow light on it so it became the new village toy… while still attached to my arm. I also became a jungle gym. While I was outside throwing boys into the air while they climbed on me, Lu was in the hut with the women. It became obvious to us that the men and women have very different roles. The women are there to keep track of everything in the village such as water, food, clothing, the huts and the men take care of the animals and leadership and are served by the women. This is true even for the boys; that as future men they were equal or higher in rank than their mother’s.

The boys were hilarious and all over us; constantly just making noise, taking stuff off of us, and playing games, or just bouncing in our laps. But their mothers did not stop them from any of this. Later the women performed a song and dance for us. (Again we were worried it would be staged, but later we were told that they love doing it and we were merely an excuse. Even after we went to bed they carried on.) While they performed the boys constantly jumped in and made noise and tried to distract us.

It was fun but exhausting as well, fortunately we were invited to sleep in our guide’s mother’s hut. We slept on wood and goat skin in the smoke soaked hut. I slept great, Lu not as much, but the next day we were again sipping tea with his mother. It honestly felt almost the same as a Saturday morning at home. When we left we went to the Massai market where the men went to sell goats, and separately the women hauled, coal, corn flour, and water for of 5km on their head or back for sale. The men may rule the roost, but the women are the backbone. At the market we shared a goat with some of the Massai men, and also after chatting we found that despite the difference in sexes they do appreciate each other which can be seen in how they treated us. We found that while they do have multiple wives and arranged marriages, they do also marry for love, love all of their children, and honor taking care of everyone in their family. Siblings from other mother’s are still treated as equals and the children refer to their father’s other wives as mothers. So while there is much separation there is still warmth and love.

We said goodbye to our guide (who later sent my lost jacket) and ended up in Babati to go on a cultural tour. We went on a bike tour to visit with someone from the Barbaig tribe. We rode our bikes through the rift valley, saw some naked dudes bathing in the hot spring, then repaired our bike, then ended up in the shade outside some guy’s mud and stick house. Our guide then stated that we were at a Barbaig house. The Barbaig dress similar to the Massai, but one difference is that their women have tattoos around their eyes At the beginning of the conversation we were a little confused how we ended up there, and then realized this is also someone our guide just met. Our conversation was pretty light, but they were so baffled by us having only one wife.

One wife? Really?

How many cows did she cost?

None!?

Getting a wife is cheap, why don’t you have more!?

As we asked more about the wives (I mean it’s a pretty interesting concept to both sides), we found that they are actually different from the Maasai in that while the women are not allowed to marry more than one man they are allowed to have sex with as many partners as they want and if there is a child their husband will accept it as their own, and there are divorces. So while they carry sticks, have extended earlobes and checkered blankets, they might look similar but actually each tribe does have their own customs and culture still alive today.

When we left Babati we had to take an overcrowded bus and fight for our seats. But then a clearly Barbaig woman came on the bus. We smiled and looked at each other because now had learned the difference between the tribes. She then sat next to me on the bus ….. and repeatedly elbowed me in the chest and fell asleep on my shoulder.