Maasai cultural conservation project: Shield book

Click to see larger imageWe have finalized the print and digital versions of a 112-page book detailing the work of the October 2012 shield-building workshop in southern Kenya. This book is the final visual product we have created for the Maasai community that initiated the cultural conservation program. We are printing 125 copies and are delivering them to the Maasai in November 2013. 

Special thanks to all those who contributed to the project. Participants, donors, and those who provided assistance are listed below. Ashe o'leng. Thank you.

Sample pages from the shield book, which is available for purchase on our MagCloud account for $34.95 in beautiful full-color print (bonus: the print version includes a free digital version; shipping is extra) or $9.95 for a digital download (PDF, web version, or iPad app): 

Location: Olkiramatian Community of South Rift, Kenya; Lale'enok Resource Centre

With artisans:

Tonkei ole Rimpaine, Karinte ole Manka, Ntetiyian ole Pasoi, Sipala ole Mpoe, Kelempu ole Ntetiyian, Mariketi ole Kalempo, Rijano ene Ntetiyian, Majakus ene Saitaga, Bebi ene Mugesa, Moyiangei ene Sampao

With assistance from: John Kamanga, project manager; Albert Kuseo, Joel Njonjo, Jackson Kaiseyie, Guy Western

African Conservation Centre, Nairobi,  Lucy Wariungi, director, and Dr. David Western, chairman

Elizabeth Loker and Clinton Lucy

Flight & Safaris International, Winnie Akinyi

British Museum, Centre for Anthropology, Catherine Elliott, Jim Hamill, and Christopher Spring

Funding provided by donors of ConserVentures Charitable Organization: Dr. Edward Beggy, Carol Keyser, Doug Mote, Brian DeArmon, R.J. Stappel, Terry & Charlie Beggy, Steve Hayden, Diane Boyer, Tom & Celeste Hanagan, Clay Knight, and with support from OverlandExpo.com.

For more information please visit:

SORALO.org (South Rift Association of Land Owners) 

Video and photography for a Maasai community's cultural conservation project

Blood & Leather: Re-creating the Maasai war shield in 2012 from ConserVentures on Vimeo.

History records that rapacious, musket-armed Arab slave caravans of the 18th and 19th centuries avoided transiting what is now central and southern Kenya and northern Tanzania—it just wasn’t worth risking the wrath of the belligerent spear-wielding Maasai who dominated the region. Early European explorers as well dreaded the sight of a line of colorful leaf-shaped shields appearing on a hilltop, and took roundabout routes into the interior. Even the mighty British Empire never directly confronted the Maasai militarily, and relied instead on political sleight of hand to squeeze the tribe out of its best grazing lands once the area was deemed a protectorate. 

While the Maasai no longer range and raid at will over the East African landscape, they have continued to fight to retain their identity as a tribe and culture, picking and choosing which bits of the modern world they wish to adapt. Thus a red-robed and sandaled herdsman leaning on a spear in the South Rift is quite likely to be chatting in Maa on a cell phone, and a smartly-dressed businessman in Nairobi might go home for the weekend to a hut surrounded by a thorn boma that keeps lions out of the livestock.

But one icon of Maasai history—those tall, intricately decorated rawhide shields, so universally recognizable that one features centrally on Kenya’s national flag—seemed lost forever, save as dusty relics in museums, rare and expensive objets d’art from exclusive curio dealers, or, tragically, as cheap, undersized, shoddily made tourist souvenirs. The loss was doubly sad since each shield’s design elements, or sirata, revealed detailed information about its bearer’s clan and achievements, and thus represented a tangible record of Maasai history.

This loss seemed unacceptable to two elders in the Olkirimatian community of Kenya’s South Rift Valley. Tonkei Ole Rimpaine and Karinte Ole Manka—both former shield bearers now in their 70s—approached ConserVentures with a plan: They wanted to put together a workshop to build new shields, using authentic techniques and materials, with the immediate goal of producing examples to be displayed in a planned Maasai heritage museum, and the secondary but much more vital goal of passing on their knowledge to a younger generation. Through the generosity of several donors, we arranged to source rawhide and supply food and transportation to the group, and to use the Lale’enok Resource Center as a base. John Kamanga, the chairman of the Olkirimatian community and a driving force for Maasai cultural conservation, was our liason as we worked on logistics from 7,000 miles away. The construction team comprised John’s father, Ntetiyian Ole Pasoi, two other elders, Sipale Mpoe and Marikete Ole Ilelempu, and four women, Rijano Ene Ntetiyian (John’s mother), Majakus Ene Saitage, Moyiangei Ene Sampao, and Bebi Ene Mugesa.

Over the course of five days in late October, Tonkei and Karinte supervised the group while we photographed and filmed the entire process. In that time, one cowhide (the only major concession to the 21st century, the original cape buffalo being no longer available since Kenya banned hunting), some goatskin, and a pile of limbs from a Cordia senensis tree magically morphed into two sturdy shields—a stiff rawhide face backed by a carved, tensioned center stay and handgrip, the perimeter laced with goatskin around flexible Cordia wands. Then, alchemist concoctions of charred bone, ocher, limestone, and cow’s blood (the latter amusingly stored in an old Famous Grouse whiskey bottle), dabbed and streaked on the shields with chewed twigs, blossomed into recreations of the original Olkirimatian sirata. The two senior elders eyed each line and color critically, and more than once sections were scraped off and re-painted to achieve the proper symmetry. Throughout the process, young Maasai men of the community hung around to watch or help, taking cell-phone photos and fueling our hopes that some might be inspired to take up the craft as a business—we believe there’d be a ready market for detailed and authentic Maasai shields as a counterpoint to the cheesy tourist rubbish.

To us the end products—as far as we know the first true Maasai shields produced in decades—seemed like priceless artifacts. Yet before the paint was dry Tonkei and another elder had grabbed them and set to in a fierce mock duel, leaping and yelling like the Morani they were 50 years earlier while we cheered wincingly from the sidelines. 

The completed shields, not minus a few scuff marks, are now stored at the Lale’enok Resource Center. One will be taken to Nairobi to be used in educational programs; the other is destined for the planned cultural museum to be built at a nearby archaeological site, Olorgesailie.

That is, as long as Tonkei Ole Rimpaine and Karinte Ole Manka don’t decide to requisition them, grab a couple of spears, and head out to raid cattle and take some land back from the British.  

* * * 

 

Full photo gallery (51 images): click here.

ConserVentures provided photography and videography services for this project, and will be producing books, posters, and film for the Maasai Cultural Heritage Program. You can learn more about the South Rift Association of Land Owners and their programs at www.soralo.org

Trail camera wildlife survey in northern Mexico's Sierra Madre

Mt. lion at Rincón de Guadalupe; click to enlargeCow . . . cow . . . cow . . . two cows . . . cow nose . . . cow tail . . . mountain lion . . . cow . . .

What? Go back.

Six of us were crowded around our little Canon G10, using its LCD screen to review the images from the trail camera fixed securely to a nearby oak tree. Out of several hundred photos, the majority showed either cows, the single squirrel that—unbeknownst to us when we placed the camera—lived in the tree on the left side of the frame and indulged itself in repeated self-portraits, or just apparently empty creekside landscape, the result of wind, an overenthusiastic camera sensor, or invisible extraterrestrials—one is never sure. 

But between the cows and aliens the Bushnell Trophy Cam had recorded a fascinating cross-section of the life in this remote canyon in Mexico’s Sierra Madre. 

Read the full report here

Professional development workshop, South Rift Game Scouts, Kenya, October 2011

Despite a language and culture gap many would consider formidable, two law enforcement rangers from the U.S. Park Service bonded instantly with a group of 28 Maasai game scouts from the South Rift in Kenya.

During an intensive, ConserVentures-sponsored workshop held at the Lale’enok Resource Center, about 90 miles south of Nairobi, Gary Haynes and Michael Hardin shared their training and experience in tactics for tracking poachers who might be armed and capable of laying an ambush to surprise their pursuers. In return, Gary and Michael were embraced as brethren by the Maasai rangers, who quickly recognized and valued their shared professionalism and similar challenges, and who gave as good as they received in explaining fieldcraft relevant to the African bush. Michael Lenaimado, head of the scouts and fluent in Maa and English, translated throughout the training, but after the first day or two much of the one-on-one interaction seemed to take place more by telepathy than talking. 

Click here to Read the full report  . . .

[For photos and video, see our Gallery and Videos pages]

MABA Expedition, July-August 2011

La Sierra Madre: The Mother Range. It’s fitting that Mexico would give all three of its major mountain ranges the same name, differentiated only by their location—Sierra Madre Occidental, Sierra Madre Oriental, Sierra Madre del Sur. After all, this is a land where devotion to the ideal of the maternal is endemic, where shrines to the Virgin are rarely a stone’s throw apart, and where madres, abuelas, and tias have traditionally ground the corn, dried the carne, and pounded the chile that comprises the life-sustaining triumvirate of Mexican cuisine.  

Click to enlargeThe sierras give life to the country too. Peaks ten thousand feet tall scrape rain from clouds spawned in two oceans and two seas, sending it cascading through pine and fir forests where thick-billed parrots screech at stooping goshawks, down through oak woodlands where moonlight fires the eyes of jaguars and ocelots, and out to water the valleys and plains where corn grows, cows graze, and chiles ripen in the sun.

What better goal for a scientific expedition, then, than to explore and celebrate the life in its myriad forms that springs from the Mother Range? That’s the idea behind MABA—the Madrean Archipelago Biodiversity Assessment.

Click here to download the story in our Terra magazine format, with 16 pages of images, interactive links, and multimedia, or follow the link below to read a simpler version on the website. You can also order a print copy from MagCloud, our HP print partner, here.

Communications for conservation

Carlos and Martha Robles of El Aribabi Conservation Ranch needed color brochures for a large event in Tucson, Arizona. ConserVentures donated design and printing for 200 brochures for the event (left), and will be working on a more permanent marketing materials package, including logo, brochure, and ad campaign. Click here to download the complete brochure. Defenders of Wildlife needed assistance marketing a unique trip in central Arizona, a collaboration of the Apache Nation, the non-profit, and a tour company to promote eco-tourism. ConserVentures created materials and marketed the June 2011 trips through its mailing lists. Click here to view the email with live links about the trip.

Skills assistance ~ wildlife tracking

Discussing a deer that had been killed by a jaguar on El Aribabi Conservation Ranch.ConserVentures founders Roseann & Jonathan Hanson helped start the Sky Island Alliance Wildlife Tracking program in early 2001. Since then it has become one of the most respected citizen-science program in the world, with several hundred volunteers over ten years monitoring important habitats in the Sky Island region. Their data has helped create land use plans for Pima and Santa Cruz counties, and Arizona Department of Transportation's first approved over- and under-highway wildlife crossings. Over the ten years of this ongoing program, Roseann & Jonathan continued to volunteer their time as instructors in the program. In April 2011, they joined Cynthia Wolf, Jessica Lamberton, and Sergio Avila at El Aribabi Conservation Ranch in northern Mexico to teach the next nine volunteers. Photo gallery, click here. For more on the program, visit SkyIslandAlliance.org.

Skills assistance & conservation expedition, Micronesia

Two ConserVentures board members worked with a community in Micronesia to re-invigorate traditional building and canoe-making skills. With a long history in the community (dating to the 1960s as Peace Corps volunteer), Steve Hayden and Diane Boyer traveled to a small, remote Pacific island to work with the natives who wanted to renew constructing and using waharak (traditional ocean-going outrigger sailing canoes), but lacked funds for and access to tools and sail cloth. The pair delivered adze blades and other hand tools, and 90 yards of sailcloth. The team documented the construction of several canoes and the building of a large uut (thatch-roofed boat house). More documentation coming soon, including video, which is being shared with the community this year. [We are waiting until the communication products have been delivered to the community first, before sharing with the world at large.]