When I visited the Serengeti, I expected to see giraffes and zebras, beautiful landscapes and peaceful sunsets over the plains.
What I didn’t expect was to form a lifelong friendship with a Maasai tribesman.
Of course that’s just because I hadn’t met Emmanuel, yet. Warm, intelligent, with a smile that lights up his face, Emmanuel was not just a translator to us, he was a true cultural liaison to his fellow Maasai, and to a way of life unlike anything I’d ever imagined before.
I met Emmanuel at the Thomson Safaris’ Private Nature Refuge, as we headed out to one of the nearby Maasai villages. He was our translator, and I was amazed by his vast array of knowledge and near-perfect English. He politely answered all our questions about the Maasai, taught us a few Maa words to try out when we visited the village, and even spent some time asking us about our lives. Thanks to Emmanuel and his easy smile, our village visit was filled with dancing, jumping, pictures, and laughter shared with the villagers. It was a true cultural exchange!
During the rest of my stay I learned more about Emmanuel’s life, his family, and his dream of going to wilderness school. He was curious and driven, and I was impressed with how he navigated the two worlds he lived in: the traditional Maasai setting in which he was raised, and the modern, global world he was learning more about as a translator for Thomson Safaris. His doubts weren’t so different from any young man who wanted to see the world, but didn’t want to disappoint his family or lose sight of his heritage.
On my last day, as we were saying goodbye, Emmanuel told me he had a question.
You can imagine my surprise when Emmanuel proposed, offering a dowry of 100 cows.
I had only known him for two days, and besides, I was not on the market! How was I going to let him down easily?! My guide, Mohammed, started laughing hysterically. Soon Emmanuel joined in and I realized he was joking. Still laughing, we exchanged email addresses, took a couple photos to remember the moment, and I headed back to the US.
From just a few heartfelt conversations in the bush, I struck up a totally unexpected friendship. Who knew a girl from Ohio would connect so well with a Maasai from the bush? Emmanuel and I exchange emails regularly and send updates about our friends and family. I sent him pictures of my time at the Private Nature Refuge with the Maasai, and he passed them along to local villagers.
Emmanuel did finally make it to wilderness school thanks to the generous help of past Thomson Safaris guests the Lincks. He graduates this fall, and I, along with the entire Boston office, am so proud of his hard work—we can’t wait to see what he’ll do next! From the moment I met him, I could tell Emmanuel was just one of those people who would go on to do amazing things. I am grateful I had the opportunity to get to know him better during my time on safari with Thomson.
Emmanuel not only made it to wilderness school, he’s graduating this year.
We’ll be following up with Emmanuel soon!
Thomson guest and talented beatboxer, Ben Mirin, shared a special cultural exchange with the Maasai during his safari earlier this month. The Maasai taught him their ceremonial dance and Ben introduced them to the sounds of beatboxing – music they have never heard before. To see how it all unfolded, watch the video below and then read our interview with Ben to learn more about beatboxing and his unique visit.
This musical experiment is impromptu, but it blends basic beatbox techniques with elements of Maasai traditional dance. Creating it with this amazing group of people was a wonderful experience.
How long have you been beatboxing? Do you beatbox professionally?
I’ve been beatboxing my entire life, or at least as long as I’ve been actively listening to music. My earliest memories of it come from watching cartoons around age seven or eight. I would listen to the theme songs of shows on TV, then repeat the drum and melody lines back to myself, often simultaneously. I can only imagine what my parents thought at the time.
I became a professional beatboxer when I returned to the US from Japan in August 2012. I’ve been performing since late high school, but I got my first paying gigs last fall at clubs in my native Boston. I also developed a curriculum reinforced with beatboxing for an education management startup called Degrees2Dreams in Boston, and am still in the process of refining that program.
How would you describe beatboxing to someone who has never heard it before?
Simply put, beatboxing interprets and reinvents traditional musical sounds through the creativity of the human voice. To say it’s “a person imitating drums” or a DJ might make more sense, but I think that’s too simplistic. I’ve heard beatboxers imitate a huge range of instruments—brass, synth, guitar, etc.—very well, as well as produce musical sounds unique to the human voice. It’s music with your mouth, and it’s a growing genre in Hip Hop and international music.
How did you explain beatboxing to the Maasai?
These Maasai had already shown me incredible kindness by giving a riveting dance performance, and subsequently by teaching me how to dance with them. I explained through a translator that I wanted to express my gratitude by sharing an authentically American musical tradition with them. As the video shows, I began with some very basic beatbox sounds (bass drum, high hat, snare) and asked them to mimic them. Mimicry is a touchstone in my own experience becoming a beatboxer, and I think it’s a natural starting point for anyone interested in trying to learn.
How did the Maasai receive beatboxing?
This I think it is clear in the video…the Maasai loved it! Beatboxing has its roots in New York City, but recently it has become a worldwide phenomenon. This was the first time any of these warriors or women, or the Tanzanians nearby, had heard beatboxing, and I hope a few of them might carry the music with them and help it reach new parts of the world.
What were your impressions of Maasai music?
From what I know about Maasai culture (and I hope to expand that knowledge base), it seems natural that their vocal music tradition should be incredibly robust. In the absence of instruments, which may be too expensive or cumbersome to carry around, they sing with a lot of percussive as well as melodic sounds, from rhythmic bass lines to hisses and loud yelps. It’s completely a product of their environment, and that’s what I love most about it.
How did this experience inspire you creatively and do you think it will inspire your music in the future?
The best thing about beatboxing in my opinion is its universality. It draws on the inherent creative potential of an instrument—the voice—that people use to speak thousands of unique languages across the world, let alone make music. This experience in Tanzania has really got me thinking about ways to explore beatboxing’s potential as a cross-cultural force, with applications both within and beyond music.
Do you have any additional thoughts about the experience?
It isn’t the last…
I want to extend a final thank you to Thomson Safaris! It’s fantastic that you are so engaged in helping local communities in Tanzania, and as someone who balks at being a tourist wherever and whenever possible, I am grateful for the chance to have done something similar. This wonderful experience couldn’t have happened without everyone involved in your program.
To learn more about Ben Mirin and his beatboxing, visit his website.
Thomson Safaris’ guests, Lori and Mark made a memorable safari experience truly unforgettable. Read the story of their Maasai wedding vow renewal ceremony below.
Lori’s desire to visit Africa was realized when she was a young girl; over the years, her connection and passion for Africa’s wildlife and people grew more intense. “I’ve been listening to Lori talk about Africa for all 20 years of our marriage,” joked her husband, Mark. So for their 20th wedding anniversary, Mark surprised Lori with a Tanzanian safari, which they would enjoy the following year. For Lori, the surprises didn’t stop there!
Over the course of the next year, Mark secretly made detailed plans with our staff and the local Maasai community for a very special event on the eve of their 21st anniversary – a wedding vow renewal ceremony, Maasai-style. Mark was very diligent to make the ceremony as authentic as possible. “We are in their home, we are their guests and I wanted the ceremony to be authentic and true to their culture,” he said. The events of the ceremony and the traditional garments they were to wear were crafted well ahead of their visit to Tanzania.
On the day of the ceremony, the Thomson staff told all of the guests at the Nyumba camp they were invited to a local wedding. “I thought we hit the jackpot,” said Lori. “How lucky are we to experience something unplanned like this? So few people get this kind opportunity!” Lori immediately, and very excitedly, told Mark that she wanted to get to the ceremony site early to sit in the front row. Mark, who was instructed to keep Lori in their tent until preparations were finalized, searched for excuses to stall her. “Maybe you want to freshen up first…? Why do you want to sit in the front row, we don’t even know these people…? I don’t want to be the first ones there…” Mark kept struggling with reasons to keep Lori from leaving the tent.
Fortunately Mark was able to divert Lori’s frustration with his unsubstantiated excuses when he heard Maasai chanting in the distance; this was his signal the ceremony was beginning. He was finally able to reveal his plans to his very shocked wife, “The wedding that we are going to…it is not for a local member of the Maasai village, it is for us. We are getting re-married in a traditional Maasai wedding ceremony.” Lori was overwhelmed with emotion. “I had no idea what was going to happen next and I wanted to be present in the moment and take it all in,” she said.
A group of chanting Maasai warriors approached their tent and collected Mark and Lori to prepare them for the ceremony. Lori was escorted to a group of eight women who dressed her in the wedding garments they made for her, which included a dress and a beaded headpiece. “The garments and the jewelry were elaborate and so beautiful, we were touched by the amount of time and work they must have put into making them for us. It really meant a lot to us.”
There was a flurry of activity encircling Lori; Mark could barely make out what was happening through the blur of the women’s hands as they prepared her for the ceremony. He was able to see a special moment as young girls smiled proudly as they adorned Lori’s ears with beautiful beaded earrings they had made for her. He will never forget Lori’s face, in the midst of the excitement, beaming with pure emotion.
Johnson translated the ceremony from Maa to English.
Mark and Lori with their guide, Robert, their son, Adam and Ellie, Mark's mom. The ceremony was a surprise to the whole family!
Maasai women dressing Lori in traditional wedding garments they made for the ceremony.
The ceremony included blessings from Maasai elders and a heartfelt exchange of vows between the couple.
The couple described it as a true cultural exchange with the Maasai. “We learned about their culture but they also learned about our culture."
The ceremony began when a group of chanting Maasai came to collect Mark and Lori to prepare them for the event.
The ceremony was held around the fire at the camp and began with four elders giving their blessings. Mark presented a photo from their wedding day, which was almost exactly 21 years prior, and began reciting his renewal vows. As Mark’s vows were being translated into Maa, he watched the translator’s eyes widen — this was a bit of culture shock! “In the Maasai culture, the bride and groom don’t really speak to one another during the ceremony,” Mark explained, “so for Maasai guests to hear us sharing emotional and heartfelt words and deep expressions of love for one another was completely foreign to them.”
This was one of the many moments the couple describes as a true cultural exchange with the Maasai. “We learned about their culture but they also learned about our culture. The last thing we wanted was this to feel like a show they put on for their American guests. The Maasai were so warm and welcoming and they really seemed to embrace and genuinely engage in the whole experience.”
The Maasai were as moved by the experience as Mark and Lori. “We are honored to bless this wedding and host you people from America,” said one traditional elder and spiritual leader. “Any of your family or friends or anyone is welcome to have a beautiful celebration like this one with the Maasai of our village.”
Since they’ve returned home, Lori and Mark are still relishing in the experience. “It was the convergence of a meaningful and spiritual place with a deeply emotional moment,” said Lori, “It was the perfect combination to make this experience a once in a lifetime event for which I will forever be grateful. I was so blown away with my husband conceiving of this idea and planning every last detail, and pulling it off without a hitch. Honestly, I have no idea how he did it. I am also so appreciative of the Thomson staff and their willingness to help plan this event and create such a unique memory for us. They were amazing. Asante Sana!”
Thomson Safaris sponsored a group of Maasai women from several villages in Loliondo to participate in Arusha’s International Women’s Day activities in March.
International Women’s Day celebrates the economic, political, and social achievements of women past, present and future. The events, which are held annually across the world, range from seminars, conferences, and to political rallies and networking events. Women from all over Tanzania gathered for this multi-day conference under the theme of “Connecting Girls, Inspiring Futures.”
Over the course of a few days, the Maasai women attended seminars on topics such as domestic violence, entrepreneurship, human rights, HIV/AIDS and Female Genital Cutting (FGC). The seminars not only increased their awareness about these issues relevant to their daily lives, but also supplied the women with strategies and knowledge to work on these issues and to improve their quality of life.
Maasai women rally at International Women's Day
Maasai women attending International Women's Day seminars
Selling Maasai beadwork
The Loliondo women not only enjoyed learning the valuable information covered at the Women’s Day events but also found modern life in Arusha to be a learning experience in itself. Most of these women have never left their remote villages, which made Arusha’s busy streets and crowds, along with things we take for granted, like electricity, an eye-opening experience.
The women intend to share their newly-gained knowledge about women’s rights, violence prevention, and the importance of better access to education for girls with their communities.