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Dalmas Tiampati

It’s difficult for us to imagine how it must feel to see your family and friends hungry, thirsty, and dying. I can’t imagine how hard it must be to see one after one of your precious animals die of thirst. But after being thrown into a drought of unprecedented severity this is exactly what Dalmas and many of his Maasai community had to endure.

Having practiced his traditional rites as a Maasai young man, Dalmas went to a local rural primary school and then continued on to Moi University to complete Bachelors and Masters Degrees. He then worked at a public university for seven years but it wasn’t long before he felt a loss of identity and a deep longing for his old home and life.

He recounts: ‘I love my culture, I love livestock, especially cattle and sheep and I felt the only life for me was to go back to the village and be a herder. This is a life of peace and fulfillment.’

The Maasai people of East Africa live in southern Kenya and northern Tanzania along the Great Rift Valley on semi-arid and arid lands. The Maasai occupy a total land area of 160,000 square kilometers with an estimated population of 841,622 people. Dalmas is from Kajiado County in Kenya.

The Maasai, are pastoralists which means they graze animals for both income and food. Their grasslands have long supported a semi-nomadic lifestyle that provides a healthy diet of meat, milk, herbal soup, some honey, and occasionally fresh blood – the perfect ‘primal diet,’ This nutrient-dense high protein diet has produced some of the world’s finest human physical specimens. Maasai people are renowned for being very tall and muscular, practically disease-free and definitely win the prize for biggest warm smile full of perfect pearly teeth!

The traditional Maasai sense of community is incredibly strong, is well organized and usually functions harmoniously. The women are responsible for the homes – simple ‘kraals’ of mud, sticks, grass, and dung arranged in a circle surrounded by protective thorns – collecting water and milking livestock. The men offer protection and security as warriors or wisdom and organizational structure as elders. Boys are traditionally responsible for herding the cattle, sheep, and goats with the help of the warriors when droughts of trouble take them further afield or if families decide to send the boys to school.

Dalmas says: ‘The leader of each age set is selected by elders who scrutinize family background and genealogy to see whether the potential candidates’ families are people who love peace and justice and show qualities of braveness.’

As healthy people, medical intervention is rarely required however highly effective treatments even for fractures and tumors – come in the form of herbal remedies; the skills of healers are still highly valued above and beyond more Westernised forms of medicine.

So Dalmas started a plan to leave his employment and return to be a Maasai herder and raise grass-fed beef cattle in the traditional pastoral system. He took a bank loan and managed to accumulate enough money to build a herd of 127 cows, he resigned from his job and returned to his Maasai community.

Dalmas remembers: ‘The community was so happy and our elders really loved that, after getting a University degree I was coming home and investing in our village. I become a role model for our young people and was highly respected for understanding what is really important in life; community, good health, and a sense of identity.’

But after several dry years the ultimate disaster struck, the drought became so severe that everything changed. The watering holes, rivers, and wells dried up and the animals – the main source of nutrition for the Maasai – started to die. Eventually, 90% of all the livestock belonging to the community died; Dalmas was left with only 14 cows.

Dalmas remembers: ‘my community was reduced to beggars who depended on food relief to survive, this food was poor quality and a very different from what we were used to so made us sick. I saw children die of malnutrition and lack of water and old people dying of starvation.’ ‘People started coming to me for help, I had a little money so helped buy food, but the food was being sold expensively by exploitative business people who hoarded it in order to raise demand to increase their profits.’

Even though Dalmas lost his livestock along with it his dream, he has vowed to help his people protect themselves from future droughts that a changing climate will inevitably strike.

Dalmas has created a non-profit organization called ‘Ildalalekutuk Maasai Action for Development.’ His organization looks for partners to solve the problems and bring about a liberated, independent, and prosperous Maasai society.

One of the core objectives of the resilience measures being investigated is the use of ‘holistic planned grazing’ which has been shown to regenerate grasslands that are turning into desert. Holistic planned grazing makes grasslands more resilient to drought and flooding.


Writer, Teacher and Activist

Starhawk is an American writer, teacher and activist. She is known as a theorist of feminist Neopaganism and ecofeminism. She is a columnist for Beliefnet.com and for On Faith, the Newsweek and Washington Post online forum on religion. Starhawk's book The Spiral Dance (1979) was one of the main inspirations behind the Goddess movement. In 2012, she was listed in Watkins' Mind Body Spirit magazine as one of the 100 Most Spiritually Influential Living People.

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