Maasai Olympics



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.





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 earlier this year, 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?

Project Description

The Menye Layiok project consists of two major activities: education and sports competition.

1. Education

“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) 5K run; (3) spear throwing; (4) rungu throwing; and (5) high jumping. Three levels of competition (local, regional, and ecosystem-wide) will climax in The Maasai Olympics, to be held at the end of 2014.

  • 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 five 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.

For more information and updates see our dedicated Maasai Olympics website at



The chanting rippled through the early morning mist, a tangible vibration more than a sound. Maasai warriors preparing to clash, but on a sports field rather than a battleground.

A herd of elephants moved past in the distance, but the young men were too busy painting each other’s faces to notice. In the Amboseli ecosystem of southern Kenya the long-awaited final day of the Maasai Olympics was here, the culmination of a year of conservation education blended with sport.

Tradition and cultures are still strong in Maasailand and, until recently, so was the desire to kill lions. But in 2012 the Menye Layiok (or ‘fathers of the warriors’) came to Big Life Foundation to hatch a plan to take traditional lion killing out of the local Maasai culture, for the good of people and wildlife. 

And so the Maasai Olympics was born, now made possible by a number of local and international stakeholders and supporters. The basic premise is an attempt to engage young men, who might otherwise have been the ones hunting lions, and demonstrate that conservation can mean something other than livestock killed by wild predators.

The Big Life Predator Compensation Fund has already had great success in protecting lions in the ecosystem, complemented by the Lion Guardians program, but the Maasai Olympics is reaching warriors on an unprecedented scale, and trying to help them adapt to changing times. As development continues to wipe cultures clean, it would be a tragedy for this people to lose their songs, but traditional lion killing cannot continue.

And the competition was intense. The winners of the 800m and 5km running events both won trips to next year’s New York marathon (organised by Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust), the winner of the standing high jump soared to a new unbelievable record height of nine feet, and the javelin and club-throw drew excited crowds as always. And crowning a successful day, the Mbirikani warrior manyatta (village) won the overall team prize, taking home a prize breeding bull.

In the past, the physical prowess of a warrior manyatta was measured by the number of lion manes hanging on their flagpole. Hopefully from now on it will be measured in the number of medals won at the Maasai Olympics.



The Maasai Olympics, big for us but small in the grand scheme of things, has touched people around the world, people that want to hear of new ideas and positive change. 

From China to the USA, Australia to the UK, the news has gone global. There have been stories by the BBC, NY Times, CNN, Al Jazeera, Wall Street Journal, and many others.

To read one of the more colorful articles visit:

27 March 2015: Months after the 2014 Maasai Olympics, images of our event continue to garner international interest be it as one of BBC's Week in Pictures...


Or more recently, a photo by Beverly Joubert was featured on National Geogrpahic's Instagram.