THE HUNT FOR MEDALS, NOT LIONS : THE FIRST MAASAI OLYMPICS (DECEMBER 2012)
A four minute film by Big Life of the first ever Maasai Olympics, created to help eliminate lion hunting from the Maasai culture, organized and partly funded by Big Life Foundation. Featuring Guest of Honor, 2012 Olympic Gold Medallist, David Rudisha.
In 2008, the cultural “fathers” of the new warrior generation asked Maasailand Preservation Trust - now Big Life Foundation - to help them eliminate lion hunting from the Maasai culture.
In response to this, MPT/Big Life partnered with the Maasai of Amboseli/Tsavo - to conceive and raise the funding for this first-ever Maasai Olympics, part of the initiative to help to shift the attitudes of the Maasai toward a broader commitment to wildlife and habitat conservation as a preferred way of life in the 21st century.
CONSERVATION THROUGH SPORTS
The Maasai-language phrase, “menye layiok” (men-ya lie-oak), means “fathers of the warriors” and describes a small group of Maasai leaders who are carefully selected by their communities and charged with the singular responsibility of teaching a new warrior generation the “rules” of Maasai warriorhood, including – for the first time ever – whether or not these new warriors will be allowed culturally to kill lions. The menye layiok will be the warriors’ only teachers for the duration of their warriorhood.
A new Maasai warrior generation comes into being only once every 12 to 15 years in the Amboseli-Tsavo ecosystem, occuring most recently in 1996. The menye layiok were chosen in late 2008, and have deliberated since to prepare for this infrequent handover of power.
This highly anticipated transition occured in 2012, and the Iltuati warrior age-set came into being: over 4,000 young men across the ecosystem, more 40% of whom are illiterate. What will be expected of these young warriors? What activities will their “fathers” encourage them to pursue? And what, if any, traditional behaviour will be forbidden to these warriors in order for the people of this region to survive and prosper in this most challenging of times: the twenty-first century?
The Menye Layiok project consists of two major activities: education and sports competition.
“There Will Always Be Lions?”, a film produced exclusively for this project, is central to the education program. The film was shot locally in Maa, the Maasai language, with English subtitles. The film is being shown to the new warriors in the presence of their menye layiok. Discussion and teaching of the film’s two major themes will follow. First, lion killing is no longer culturally acceptable and must stop now, once and for all, as must the killing of elephants and all wildlife species. Second, failure to follow the “path of conservation” and reap its economics benefits will result in an unsustainable future of the Maasai people. Their noble way way of life, traditional land, and ancient culture will be lost.
“There Will Always Be Lions?” by Kire Godal
The most celebrated figure in the film is the spiritual leader of the Maasai nation: the supreme olaibon (‘oh lay bohn’). He says, “We live in a new age; we must protect our wildlife like we protect our cattle; warriors must go to school; lion killing is finished; I am your olaibon and I command you new warriors to stop killing lions.” The message has never, until now, been heard in the Maasai people’s 500-year-history. It will most certainly improve the highly uncertain future of this magnificent and irreplaceable of the world.
2. Sports Program
Instead of lion killing to compete for recognition, express bravery, attract girlfriends, and identify leaders, the menye layiok have created a history-changing alternative to lion killing: an organized Maasai sports competition based upon traditional warrior skills. The sports program will include five events: (1) 200m sprint; (2) 800m sprint; (3) 5K run; (4) spear throwing; (5) rungu throwing; and (6) high jumping. Three levels of competition (local, regional, and ecosystem-wide) will climax in The Maasai Olympics, to be held for the third time at the end of 2016.
- At the local level, the warriors will receive basic sports training in the five events and compete for selection to one of four teams across the Amboseli-Tsavo ecosystem. Each will represent a warrior manyatta (village) that will host in aggregate the 4000+ young men during their 12-to-15 years of warriorhood.
- At the regional level, each team will compete in the six events against the other three manyattas of the ecosystem.
- The Maasai Olympics will take place before national and international media, celebrities, government officials, friends, family, and tourists. The grand prize for the winning team will be a highly-valued bull for breeding. The top three finishers in each event will receive a substantial cash prize and medal, awarded by one of Kenya’s greatest track stars. The Maasai Olympics will occur biennially and become a key day on Kenya’s calendar.
2014 MAASAI OLYMPICS
The international media latched on to the success of the event where instead of killing lions, warriors competed on a sports field. News outlets across the world, including the Wall Street Journal, BBC, Washington Post, CNN, Huffinton Post, The New York Times, Al Jazeera, and many others, all featured the days colorful events.
For more information, photos and updates see our dedicated Maasai Olympics website at www.maasaiolympics.com.