The United Republic of Tanzania is bordered to the north by Kenya and Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo on the west, and Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique on the south. The Indian Ocean is on its eastern side.
It is the largest of the East African nations and has the lowest and highest points of the entire continent. Mount Kilimanjaro towers majestically over the north-eastern part of the country, and below it are the low-lying savannahs of Longido.
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Despite it being such a dry habitat, Tanzania has an abundance of colourful birds and wildlife. Much of the Serengeti Plain is home to wildebeest, monkey, antelope, lion, cheetah, gazelle, flamingo, the blue wildebeest and other bovid which take the famous thundering migration each year. Up to 250,000 wildebeest perish each year in their long and arduous movement to find forage in the dry season.
In Africa, one tribe more than any other has resisted change and fought to preserve a way of life that is colourful, romantic and vibrant. That is, of course, the proud Maasai warrior.
The Maasai is an indigenous ethnic group of semi-nomadic people living in northern Tanzania and across the border to Kenya. It is the only group allowed free travel over the border. Their residences near many game parks, as well as distinctive customs and dress, make the Maasai probably the most well-known African ethnic group in the world.
The Maasai has managed to bridge today's regional and global economic, social and political forces with a great many of their cultural traditions. Their language is Maa and there are around 650,000 of them, though their nomadic ways make it difficult to stage an accurate census.
Maasai culture is intricate and fascinating. Roles are determined by age, wealth and position in the community. Men are warriors and herders, and cattle play a central role in their lives. The more cattle, the wealthier the warrior and his wealth allows him to take multiple wives. Herds are large and warriors constantly wander on the mountain and surrounding plains seeking pasture, often camping out. Every Wednesday is market day and cattle are herded and taken to Longido town.
Eighty kilometres north of Arusha is Longido, a Maasai village. It lies on the main road at the foot of Longido Mountain which rises steeply from the plains and is an important orientation point for those in the wide surrounding area.
Maasai families live in small traditional bomas which the women make from mud, sticks, grass and cow dung. Boma are scattered over the area and are just large enough for sleeping and cooking. Women leave them at dawn each day to fetch firewood and water. Children spend their days playing around the boma and are taught while very young to tend livestock.
Women make wonderful and colourful beaded jewellery for body ornamentation. It is worn by all Maasai people and is a symbol of their culture. Patterns are determined by age. Tourists love taking the jewellery home as gifts. Young men often smear their bodies with ochre and can spend hours working on ornate hairstyles which are ritually shaved as they pass into the next age.
A most important person in Maasai culture is the medicine man. The nomadic healers move between villages and as well as providing remedies for the sick or injured, they make predictions. To help them grow strong, children are given a mixture of cow's milk, blood and urine.