Maasai men in Oliolomutia with a boda-boda motorcycle taxi – so-called from their common use on border crossings: “border-border”. Demand has led Chinese company Skygo to plan a motorbike assembling plant in Kenya. The local passion for soccer is reflected in the flag of Spanish team FC Barcelona.
Kenya – Fact Check

Hopping on the motorbike and moving on

Photo by Julio Etchart

Kenya – Fact Check Hopping on the motorbike and moving on

Just outside the Maasai Mara National Reserve in the south of Kenya, Rinka offers me a lift on his flashy Chinese motorbike, covered with FC Barcelona stickers.

Jochem Wijnands
Jochem Wijnands Founder / photographer

“Come for a ride. I will show you the Big Five without you paying a fee for the park,” he says. The prospect of having a close encounter with a pride of lions or a rhino from his unshielded back seat makes me feel a trifle vulnerable, even with a Maasai as a driver, so I decline the kind offer.

Traditionally, a Maasai murran (warrior) could only marry after joining a lion hunt to show his strength and courage. Still famed for their bravery, the tribe are no longer allowed to hunt in the reserve that bears their name. Even so, a group of murrans will still secretly spend the night deep inside to chase down a zebra or antelope, even though eating such meat is taboo. Everybody knows but all the park rangers are Maasai too.

“A lion will sometimes go outside the park boundaries and we are then allowed to kill it,” says Rinka. “They come for our cows as it is an easy supper for them.” At 28, Rinka is an experienced boda-boda chauffeur and knows the region like the palm of his hand. The name comes from English “border-border” and originated from a need to transport people across the long no-man’s-land between the Kenyan and Ugandan border posts. Nowadays, it is the fastest-growing business among the young men in this area.

The Maasai live in southern Kenya and northern Tanzania along the Great Rift Valley. Traditionally a semi-nomadic people, they were forced to settle down into reservations by the British colonial authorities after the building of the Mombasa-Kampala railway at the end of the 19th century. Livestock such as cattle, goats and sheep are still their primary source of income, so children are brought up as herders and shepherds, but now increasingly find other work in Kenya’s large tourism industry.

I ask Rinka when and why he abandoned his time-honored ways. “When I was 18 I realized I had to move on,” he says. “I have too many siblings, and we didn’t have enough cattle for all of us to survive. So I took a job as a guide in the reserve but it didn’t last very long because I only had primary school education and my English wasn’t good enough for them. So I persuaded my clan to sell two cows to put a deposit for the motorbike and now I am able to earn enough for myself and give some money to my family to help my younger sisters to go to school. I want them to do well, so they can go on to higher education in the cities.”

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Portrait of a group of young Maasai in Oliolomutia. It is hard to know how many Maasai there are as they are distrustful of Kenya government census workers and Tanzania does not classify its population into ethnic groups but estimates are around 450,000 in each country. Photo by Ton Koene

Ton Koene

Ton Koene

Canon EOS 5D

Aperture
ƒ/1.4
Exposure
1/30
ISO
640
Focal
24 mm

Portrait of a group of young Maasai in Oliolomutia. It is hard to know how many Maasai there are as they are distrustful of Kenya government census workers and Tanzania does not classify its population into ethnic groups but estimates are around 450,000 in each country.

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