From the Olarro conservancy my walk took me northwards for half-a-day to the Maji Moto area – a dry region famous for its hot springs in which many Maasai come to bathe. I wasn’t here for a swim though but rather to meet Sankale Ntutu. Sankale’s grandfather was once the chief of all the Maasai in Kenya and Tanzania. Sankale himself is the chief of the Maasai of the Maji Moto region.
It was a role indicated to the other elders by the small, dark birthmark on his forearm. His position means that he’s politically connected, but politics are not his interest. Instead he preferred to talk about Maasai culture and history and his real passion was talking about his past as a Maasai moran (warrior).
The morning after my arrival in Maji Moto, Sankale took us an hour or so west of Maji Moto to the low, apparently insignificant scrubby Lekanka Hills.
It’s here, he told me, that the last few genuine Maasai moran come to prove that they are men by hunting lion with spears. And it was here, he told me, where many years ago, he had killed his first lion in such a way.
As we sat on the hot hillside he described the excitement of that day, and as he reached the crescendo of the story, he started to visibly shake in emotion and excitement. He recalled how he and his fellow morans had asked goat herds if they had seen lion. He described how they sat on one of the lower hills and staked out where the lions were hidden. And then he told me of how he hadn’t slept the night before the hunt, of the special herbs the moran took to protect themselves, the songs they sang for courage. Then he told me of how, when the hunt began, the lion they were after stated running around the base of the hill to shake his hunters. He described how he watched the lions movements and, guessing the lions next move, separated himself from the rest of his group and waited alone for the lion to come to him. Pursued by the others the lion saw Sankale and, obviously deciding that facing one was better than facing several, it veered toward him. Sankale though was focused. He was prepared. He knew the lion would strike with its left claw as they “always do” and as the lion reached him he lifted his spear, thrust it forward and hit the lion between the neck and the shoulder blade. The lion fell. Sankale could claim the lions mane for himself.