The Photo Story: Walking with the Maasai

James ole Siloma lives in the village where we finished a six-week walk in Kenya. His headdress shows that , when he was younger, he was a moran (warrior) and killed a lion without getting hurt, and his white jewellery indicates that he’s from the remote Loita Hills
Photographer: Stuart Butler

WORDS & PHOTOGRAPHS: Stuart Butler

While researching the Lonely Planet Kenya guide, I discovered it was possible to explore the country’s Maasai lands on foot. I wanted to learn more about the area and about contemporary Maasai life, so I went walking there for six weeks with a local Maasai friend, Josphat Mako. The walk itself was easy, taking in surprisingly diverse landscapes: forest-covered mountains home to buffalo and colobus monkeys, high moorlands that felt like Dartmoor, and the classic Masai Mara scenery of open savannahs and acacia trees. Every day we walked with wildlife, from big herds of zebra, wildebeest and impala to giraffes that would come over and peer at us. We stayed in villages, camped in the bush, and interviewed those we met – one day a traditional healer or a poacher, the next a hospital worker or conservationist. People were very welcoming, and would invite us into their houses and tell us their life stories. It was incredibly rewarding – and very interesting to learn how Maasai lifestyles had changed. Among older folk, a lot of traditions are kept alive, but everything from education to religion has altered. I wouldn’t have got the same access if I’d driven; walking, people gave me more respect. To me, the best way to see the African bush – and smell it, touch it and taste it – is on foot.

I spotted this lion in Naboisho Conservancy one evening. Lions are mainly nocturnal, so she was just waking up and stretching, preparing for a night of action. Hers was a small pride of about five females and a couple of young males. People don’t realise just how bad the situation is for lions today – there are fewer in the wild than even rhinos
Photographer: Stuart Butler
We started the walk in the Forest of the Lost Child in the Loita Hills, a remote and beautiful place most visitors don’t see; we had to use machetes to hack through. The Maasai are scared of the forest as they’re not used to it – there are stories of monsters, and of a girl tending her goats who got lost deep inside and was never seen again
Photographer: Stuart Butler
This picture shows my friend Josphat Mako and his nephew in their village. Traditionally, cattle were a measure of wealth, and they still have that symbolic role. They’re hugely important to the Maasai. The kids wear old T-shirts; most Maasai will dress in Western clothes when in town on business, then change back to go out with the cows
Photographer: Stuart Butler