|Rarely in history has an indigenous people been able to survive assimilation into the technological world without losing the essence of their (ancient) culture and its potential unique contribution to the life of the earth. In that process, the rest of us also end up losing what that culture might have to offer us. The Maasai people – and the rest of the world—are now facing such a moment. Perhaps we can change history.|
Kakuta and The Maasai
For the past seven years, I have had the opportunity and good fortune to get to know and work closely with Kakuta Hamisi, a visionary young Maasai Warrior and Elder, who sees the ‘freight train’ of assimilation coming at his people, committing his life to doing what he can about it. In an extraordinary act of trust, 15 years ago his Maasai community in Kenya sold precious goats and cattle to raise enough money to send him to the USA for his undergraduate and graduate degrees.
Since then, Kakuta has been ‘commuting’ between the two countries, shuttling back and forth between Seattle and his beloved community of Merreushi, 150 kilometers Southeast of Nairobi, to share what he learned. Five years ago he founded the non-profit Maasai Association with the mission: “Building communities, making a difference, and creating a sustainable future for the Maasai people of East Africa.”
The Maasai are an ancient nomadic people living now in Kenya and Tanzania, mostly on grazing land ceded to them at the end of the Colonial period. Numbering
around 300,000, they still live and tend their herds much as they have for the past 2,000 years, spread out in widely dispersed clusters with no central economic system or infrastructure. Unbeknownst to many of them, there is a huge threat to their way of life coming at them: the onslaught of Western technology and its more modern culture. Like virtually every other indigenous group in history, the Maasai are on the path toward unintended but inevitable cultural annihilation. In the usual assimilation process they would lose the essence of who they are, and the rest of us would lose the unique contribution the Maasai have to offer the world.
But it need not happen that way.
Realizing that children were the future of his people, Kakuta’s initial proposal to the Merrueshi Elders was to allow him to build and staff a school. He wanted their children to study and learn in a Maasai school, rather than in a National Kenyan or religiously-sponsored missionary environment, both of which tried their best to remove any traces of students’ heritage such as clothes, language, food, culture, spiritual orientation, etc. In 2004, with the help of several internationally-known Seattle area business leaders, a school for Kindergarten through 6th Grades was constructed, and accredited Maasai faculty were located and recruited to come into the bush and help their people.
Then in June,2005, through an invitation from Kakuta, two consulting colleagues and I accompanied a small group of business people to Merrueshi to assist in the construction of a faculty building for their school.
Before the Merrueshi School was built, something like 10% of the Maasai children attended school. This past year, 95% of eligible Maasai children in the area are enrolled in the Merrueshi School! The little complex now takes children from Kindergarten through High School, and even on into a Post-High Technical School where they learn trades that contribute to the community and the larger world. Last year, a Medical Center was completed, rounding out a complete ‘center’ for the Maasai community. In total, an astounding accomplishment!
Kakuta for Congress!
A few years ago in one of our many after-supper Seattle conversations, Kakuta said he had been approached by the Kenyan Government to consider becoming a Representative for the Maasai people. At that time, work on the Merrueshi Community projects was still in full swing and he declined the invitation, telling me, ‘Brother, there is a lot of work to be done and I still need to feel the dust under my sandals.’ But times have changed, and this time when the idea surfaced again he agreed to run for office, trying for the post of Representative to the Kenyan National Government for the Maasai Region. (As a result of his years of self-less toil on behalf of the community, I personally cannot imagine anyone beating him.)
This is where you come in. . .
If you are moved by this idea and Kakuta’s decision, I invite you to join me in supporting his unique run for office. Most of his Maasai constituents earn less than $1 a day, and engaging in politics is an unknown thing for them, making it very difficult for Kakuta to mount a campaign that requires a Registration Fee, phone calls, the printing of flyers and posters, and traveling large distances in their old vehicle to speak to his far-flung people.
Because he doesn’t have a big political ‘machine’ behind him, this is a grassroots effort, being carried out with small amounts of personal money from hundreds of people. Many of my friends and I have contributed already, but I wanted all 5,000 of you on my mailing list to know about this—even if you do not contribute anything.
But if you are serious about wanting to help, please email Kakuta Hamisi at email@example.com and say you want to contribute. (He was concerned about putting his bank information out on an internet-based newsletter and would prefer to respond to each reply personally.)
A donation of ANY size makes a difference and sends a message—both to the Maasai community and to the Kenyan Government—that people around the world interested in what happens to the Maasai.
Kakuta earned his Masters Degree at The SIT Graduate Institute in Brattleboro, Vermont, with a Thesis on the enculturation of the Maasai. He is also an LDI Graduate! (This is our 3-1/2 day Leadership Development Intensive we offer to business/community leaders and entrepreneurs.) He has given me permission to share with you his Greater Purpose Statement (GPS), shown on the flipchart in the photo above, created at his LDI four years ago:
|Vigilant Warrior, I am a wise and gentle shepherd. Joyful and fierce, I defend the future of my people and the fragility of creation, and the privilege of the mantle I wear inspires my truthful heart. My life is the on-going breath, a bridge spanning the richness of my ancestors and the best essence of our two worlds.|
I believe Kakuta is uniquely prepared and positioned to become a force for creative change in Kenya for a long time. Wouldn’t it be something, one day, to see a Maasai leading Kenya’s government?!
Thank you for reading this. It could be a chance to help change history.
|Next week, we return to the series, Can People Really Change? Although I actually think this issue is about that, too!|