The Masai (or Maasai) traditionally herded their cattle freely across the highlands of Kenya.
Probably at the height of their power in the mid-19th century, they suffered from the British colonization of Africa and the resultant ecological and political changes.
Rinderpest, an infectious febrile disease, apparently accompanied the British, decimating the cattle herds that supplied the Masai with milk and blood; famine and then smallpox followed.
The weakened Masai attacked rather than cooperated with the new rulers.
In 1904 and 1912–13 the British government relocated the Masai population to distant southern Kenya and Tanzania, where they continue to live.
Masai males are rigidly classed by age into boys, warriors, and elders. Girls often have their marriages negotiated by their fathers before they are born.
Both boys and girls undergo circumcision ceremonies.
Older women enjoy the same status as male elders.
The Masai, most of whom are nomadic throughout the year, live in kraals, small clusters of cow-dung huts constructed by the women.
Today the Masai number approximately 250,000. They remain a pastoral people.
Funk & Wagnalls New World Encyclopedia
MASAI. [serial online]. n.d.;Available from: Funk & Wagnalls New World Encyclopedia, Ipswich, MA. Accessed August 25, 2010.