Fish Wrapping the Maasai

by zunguzungu

From the LA Times:

Six Masai warriors from Tanzania running in the London Marathon today have been issued a four-page briefing of cultural dos and don’ts that warned them, among other things, not to urinate in public or attempt to herd sheep and cows, the London Daily Mail reported.

The warriors, who will run in traditional red robes while carrying shields and sticks, have entered the race to raise money to dig water wells in their drought-stricken country.

Seriously. Don’t herd any cows or goats you happen across while running the marathon? Are cows and goats a problem in London? I had no idea. And the thing about not going to the bathroom wherever, well, marathoners of every color need to drink a lot while running, and that water’s got to go somewhere. So I hope the white marathoners are going to get similar instructions, otherwise there will be pee stains every-which place. Just like every single marathon ever. Except maybe the implication was that, without wells, these Maasai marathoners will literally not know what top do with all that free flowing water? Sadly, the article was too short to say.

I do wonder at the sticks and shields part, though. The fact that they would carry that paraphernalia while running a marathon makes me think that these Maasai guys know exactly what they’re doing: playing up to cultural stereotypes so a bunch of newspapers will pick up the story and someone will give them money to take back home. I mean, if they have a shot at winning, they would know how to perform in a race. And if they had no shot at winning and didn’t know what they were getting into (as the article implies), then how did they manage to fly to London in the first place? How did they even hear about the race? Plane fare will be a lot of wells.

Masai tribesman from Tanzania cross Tower Bridge during the 28th London Marathon in London, Britain, 13 April 2008. Six Masai tribesman ran the London Marathon to raise money for water for their village in Tanzania. Meanwhile, Kenyas Martin Lel set a new course record at the London Marathon as he defended his title to win the race for the third time in four years. Lel finished in a time of two hours five minutes and 15 seconds to beat compatriot Samuel Wanjiru into second place after a sprint finish. Germanys Irina Mikitenko took the womens race on her London debut.  EPA/ANDY RAIN

They obviously knew what they were doing, in other words, whatever it was. But while you have to be pretty blinded by a kind of cultural racism not to see that (and the LA Times, yet again, showed their colors), the interesting thing is that this was probably exactly what they were looking to do: dress up in “native” garb and get enough attention from the wazungu to make some shillings. This has been something the Maasai have been doing well for a long time now.

Here’s another one:

SIX Masai warriors from Tanzania will today compete in the London Marathon in traditional dress to raise money to provide their dry village with water.
One of the six, Isaya, 24, says: “The marathon (in London] is easy. There are no lions.”

The young warriors will run in shoes made from car tyres. Their daily life includes running with cattle between pastures – often for days on end – to protect them from predators.

“Our elders told us we can do the marathon because we have been running all over, killing a lion and herding cattle,” Isaya said. “We can help the village by raising money to drill for clean water.”

The weather is expected to be cool for the race.

There are no lions in London. Honestly. I guess none of the Maasai guys had an interest in letting them in on the joke, but jeezus, that’s laying it on a bit thick.