An Authentic Cultural Experience – Getting Off The Beaten Path
By Victoria Jewell, Travel Designer for Rothschild Safaris
Having spent 2.5 weeks in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda with fellow colleagues as we inspected beautiful lodges and camps, met with safari guides and hotel managers, traversed the most exclusive safari areas and tasted the best Africa has to offer (food is important, too!), something unique stood out to me. Something that our clients are asking for every day. And something that connects us all as a human race – an authentic cultural experience.
My heart belongs to the animals, and as such, I’ve never had much interest in cultural visits when asked to choose between this or the raw experience of witnessing wildlife on safari. Prior to Rothschild Safaris, I knew typical ‘gimmicky’ or fake experience all too well and as a result, I silently avoided scheduled cultural visits. When I saw I’d be visiting the Laikipia region of Kenya during my safari journey, a region well-known for its rich Maasai and Samburu culture, rituals and history, I knew a cultural experience would be scheduled. I mentally prepared for what I assumed was to come, but my biased mindset from past experiences couldn’t have been more wrong.
That’s because here at Rothschild Safaris we are different. Finding authentic cultural immersions throughout Africa is what we pride ourselves on. Our team knows first hand there’s nothing worse than feeling like a village visit is simply ‘staged’ for money, and so we are always in search of genuine experiences for our travelers.
Upon arriving at our lodge in Laikipia, Kenya, we were warmly welcomed by our Maasai guide who accompanied us for the entirety of our stay. He informed us of the happenings around town, and most notably, he told us that we were in luck: thanks to what they call the BNN (the Bush News Network) we were humbly invited to a nearby circumcision ceremony. My colleague Kim and I looked at each other excitedly; we’d never been to anything quite like that before! We accepted immediately, an invite like that doesn’t come every day.
Dressed in our safari best, we met our guide that evening for a 20-minute drive to the local village house of the men who had been circumcised earlier in the day. En route, we saw elders making their way to the ceremony. Our guide pulled over, inviting the elders to join us in the car, and off we went on our adventure, unsure of how this evening would unfold.
When we arrived, we were astounded at the sheer number of locals who had walked from all over to be part of the celebration. While the men who were circumcised earlier in the day rested, Maasai warriors who had completed the ceremony in years past were jumping and dancing in a circle; they’d been celebrating for hours already! They didn’t break formation when we arrived, no show was put on for us, they were simply enjoying the moment with massive smiles on their faces.
From the moment we stepped out of the car we were shaking hands with everyone from giggling children, to serious teenage Maasai warriors, and most notably, the respected elders of the village. The Chief asked us to meet his first and second wives and welcomed us into his home for the celebration. From that moment on, Kim and I observed in awe the beautiful celebration happening around us. It wasn’t long before the lovely elder women asked us to dance with them. We tried, and while it wasn’t graceful or successful, we received a lot of chuckles at our attempts to make the necklaces on our necks jump the same way the Maasai and Samburu women did so effortlessly.
After almost 3 hours of dancing, celebrating, and enjoying the company of the Samburu and Maasai locals we sadly started to say our goodbyes. But before our departure, the head Chief whose son had been circumcised that day asked to show us the rest of his home. Happily obliging, we were shown his livestock collection; an estimated 20 camels, 100 goats, 100 sheep, and 50 cows. The Maasai and Samburu call their animals the ‘ATM’, as this is a common trade product at the market. This proud Chief had an exceptionally healthy ATM at his disposal. Casting our eyes on young children milking the goats as they put them in for the night, moments later we found ourselves with a bottle in hand, ready to assist (there’s a first time for everything!).
Despite the continuing celebrations, we knew it was time for us to say goodbye. We exchanged hugs and handshakes with our new friends, as well as a few words of Maa that we’d learned that day. We left that evening with smiles on our faces and lighter hearts. I personally left with a newfound perspective for just how incredible a local visit can be.
While a circumcision ceremony or wedding can never be guaranteed, they’re quite frequent among the local tribes during November in the Laikipia region. I can’t begin to express just how incredible it is to get off the beaten path in Kenya, or anywhere in Africa. Laikipia is almost untouched by tourism, a true gem that offers experiences unlike anything else. If the amazing cultural encounters aren’t enough of a draw, many lodges on the Laikipia plateau also offer camel and horseback safaris, mountain biking, or walking safaris. No experience in Laikipia will ever be the same, but I think that’s what makes it so beautiful and exciting.
Victoria is ready to assist with designing your next African adventure, with expert advice and guidance (and a story or two!). Click here to book a call with Victoria to discuss what you are dreaming of.