The Maasai of Kenya are commonly known as warriors and in the past, practiced a traditional rite of passage to manhood that involved hunting and killing lions. Over the years, however, the lions started becoming endangered and a drive for conservation led to the rise of the Maasai Olympics.
The Maasai Olympics are a culturally relevant alternative to lion killing. By participating in it, the young men are allowed healthy competition in sports as a symbol of their transition to manhood, one which does not lead to wiping out all the lions in Kenya.
Three Maasai Olympics have now been held in 2012, 2014 and the most recent was held this year on the 10th of December. All of the events have been hailed as great successes and participation by the tribe continues to rise.
Lion hunting in the Maasai culture, which signified a transition to manhood, held a lot of allure for the possibilities it opened up to the young men which included popularity, winning leadership positions in the age group, and winning girlfriends.
Girls, being a very big draw for the warriors in the past when lions were hunted, are also a very integral part of the Maasai Olympics aim of promoting conservation. The girls are therefore included in the games and in that way are given a voice to speak against lion hunting, among the warriors.
In the build up to the 2016 Maasai Olympics, which were held at the Sidai Oleng Wildlife Sanctuary, Kimana, Kajiado District, Kenya and hosted by Olympic Gold Medalist and fellow Maasai, David Rudisha, there were a series of regional competitions.
During the regional competitions, different warrior villages (manyattas) competed against each other in events such as spear-throwing, high jumping, and running. These series of sports events were combined with education meetings aimed at improving understanding of the importance of wildlife conservation.
As the game finals held on the 10th the Maasai warriors came together to hunt not for lions, but for medals. It is an approach to conservation that takes into consideration the culture of the people which is probably why it’s so successful.
We truly hope to continue seeing more of the Maasai Olympics in years to come.