The Morani House at Gibb’s Farm

The Maasai people are one of the most studied and photographed cultural groups in Africa.  Many travelers may have seen the Maasai during their safari, particularly in the Nogorongoro Conservation Area.  The Morani House shares some of the many interesting aspects of this culture by exploring the Maasai warrior, the Morani.

The Maasai moved into the area during the 19th century amid battles with the Datoga who eventually moved south.  After the Datoga left, the Maasai seized the Serengeti/ Ngorongoro plains and the crater.  The Maasai who lived in the Serengeti were often in disagreement with the National Park and were relocated to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area when it was established in 1959.  They were allowed to settle in the crater until about 1976 when they were resettled off of the Crater floor.  Today, the Maasai can still take their herds down to the crater floor in the morning but only with special permission.

Morani is the Maasai word for “Warrior.”  In Maasai culture, boys are circumcised anywhere from 13-17 years old in a group called an age-set.  After this ceremony, the young men are ready to become warrior recruits.  This stage is where they prove themselves by going out on long journeys with each other, killing birds to use for their headdresses, and challenging others in different age-set sections.  They then eventually progress to the next level and are called junior warriors.  These junior warriors are given more freedom and are allowed to go where they want for the next couple of years.  They stay together in their group referred to as their brotherhood and begin to prepare for the next stage by painting their shields with the mark of the warrior.  They are than ready to assume the roles of senior warrior through a ceremony called eunoto.  Completing this ceremony entitles the warrior to assume the responsibility of protecting the society and the herd.

Many aspects of the Maasai culture and how they have been represented in this house, please select a video below from the Oral History Project.

These three paintings by Peter Ray Mwasha, (1) a SANAA artist-in-residence, captures these warriors as they are initiated into Maasai adulthood and advance out of it.  The spears these men are holding are given to them only after they have been circumcised.  Male warriors are able take wives, to wear jewelry and assume a very distinct hairstyle often seen in documentaries and photographs.  Photos of Dr Labiki below left are examples of his favored style of jewelry and hairstyle.

Four Maasai Morani work at Gibb’s Farm with the Osero Forest Clinic project.  Three of them live in the Namyak village, a boma complex they help construct in 2007 located in the valley of the farm estate’s forest reserve along the Ngorongoro forest.  Three of them are traditional Maasai healers who uses traditional Maasai healing and massage techniques to help travelers who are passing through on their safaris through the African Living Spa.   With the clinic they are typically providing primary heath care to 500 employees and dependents along with the staff allopathic (western) healer.

The principle items a Morani holds of value, in addition to his cows and goats include his spear below left), bow, shuka, rungus and jewelry.  Such items are present in this Morani House.  They are typically found on a ledge or wooden hook in the Morani’s boma, ready for use. 

The formal Ikilani (olkila) skirts (2) used for weddings or special occasions is not a textile but a cow skin.  The Maasai women’s traditional dress has changed considerably since yesterday. The form and degree of adornment relating to one’s age remains, but the materials and motif have changed.

Before European influences Maasai clothing was made of thin supple cow skin. Okaria clay was often used for coloring, fragrance and softness.  Typically tied at the waist with a beaded belt (6), a rectangle wrapped around leaves the upper body visible. Two of the rectangle's corners are rounded and left to hang below the belt.  The women’s legs are left partially hidden. 

The formal Ikilani skirts are used for weddings or special occasions. Stitching is used to apply patterns in symmetric non-linear shapes that echo the profile of the clothing and perhaps the women herself.  Younger women added orange, green and primary colored beads to her stitches when available.  To attract the young worriers ilmurran, jewellery is worn from head to toe highlighting her youthful body leaving it mostly revealed.

With the influence of the European the Maasai women’s contemporary formal dress reveals little. She is covered from neck to ankle not in jewelry but under woven textile.  The soft motif curves have emerged in linear form, perhaps easier for the mechanical sewing machine to assemble. The personalized beaded patterns have changed to applique.

Typically stored under the bedding to keep flat, dry, free of bugs and safe, in the Morani House we have placed them under the bed frame so they can be seen and their beauty enjoyed.  

Riziki Kateya’s, botanical illustration, captures Solunum Incunum (3), more commonly used as a medicine by the Maasai to maintain their wellness both as a preventative measure, and for particular remedies such as allergies or upset stomachs.  Riziki is a regular SANAA artist-in-residence.

The Morani’s wives typically have their own boma to care for the children.  Sometime their belongings are left behind in the Morani House.  These can be found in the small box in front of the fireplace.  The calabash on the shelf in the bathroom, used to store beverage and other materials.  Her jewelry and clothing are different than a Morani’s. 

Some of her belongings are placed in the bag on the shelf (above the bed near the bathroom).  Inside you will fined a special belt, worn low, used only after a women has undergone circumcision.

Charles Bies, (4) a SANAA artist-in-residence, depicts such an elder in has dominating carving.  Its companion work by Peter Ray, Third (1), depicts the third stage of a Morani as an elder and (sadly) no longer a Morani.

This cottage explores the cultural traditions of the area and we invite you to learn more about these cultures by participating in the Medicine Talk and Medicine Walk conducted by Dr Labiki. You can also schedule an appointment with the traditional Maasai healer who is able to help travelers with traditional remedies or to help with muscles that are aching from safari activities.  For more information about The African Living Spa or other activities available to travelers, please visit Reception. 

Reinhard Kunkel’s incredible photography book details the wondrous aspects of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area.  A past resident of the reserve, Kunkel looked down into the crater in 1963. Ten years later he returned to live there to work on the Rino Project.  A Berliner, he studied economics at Saarbrüeken. A German champion in his teens his swimming career later led to his first African safari.  The safri saw the end of the economist and the beginning of the wildlife photographer, filmmaker and writer. He is the author of African Elephants (1998), and his photographs and articles have appeared in man magazines, including: National Geographic, Life, Stern, Geo, Paris-Match, Terre Sauvage, BBC Wildlife Magazine and the Sunday Times magazine.


(1) Peter Ray Mwasha, Maasai Stage I, II, III

(2) Olkila skirt used by women, stored under the bedding.

(5) Charles Bies, Tree of Life, mpingo wood carving, front and back,  A Commissioned Sanaa work.

(3) Riziki Kateya Solunum Incunum

Below: Calibash used to store and drink blood, milk or medicine.

(6) below: Women’s maasai belt

Sanaa Art Gallery Collection installed in each cottage.  Select works have been commissioned to carry the theme and lesson of the house.