The Maasai are famous the world over for their regal physiques, tall spears, shields, and colourful clothing. Garbed in traditional gear, last Easter weekend a group of warriors battled it out in a surprising contest…cricket.
The Last Man Stands World Champs, took place in Cape Town, South Africa, finishing up on 7 April 2012. It’s a fast-paced and very social take on twenty20 cricket that brings together 40 amateur teams from around the globe for one week’s worth of games. I got down to the pitch for the first fixture, only to be met with a throng of admiring journalists and photographers, jostling and jousting for the perfect shot. One thing was clear, the Maasai Cricket Warriors have quickly become crowd favourites.
Astoundingly, they’ve been playing the game for just 3 years, and only came together as a group 2 months before, as part of a training camp in Mombasa before leaving for South Africa to take part in the Last Man Stands World Champs.
The media fascination is not just about their colourful garb and cricketing exploits, there’s a much more serious message that the players and their coach, Aliya Bauer, wish to convey. The Maasai were introduced to cricket by South African conservationist Bauer, while she was working with the Maasai in Kenya’s Laikipia North Constituency. Bauer explained that they look use the game of cricket as a means of empowering youth in their communities, where issues such as HIV infection, female genital mutilation and child marriage are matters of serious concern.
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Many of the team have level one coaching qualifications and hope that playing and coaching cricket in their traditionally pastoral communities will bring together the youth and facilitate a platform to convey a strong health and conservation message. They see cricket as a means to get together and discuss issues like AIDS, women’s rights, alcohol and drug abuse and peace amongst rival tribal factions. From humble beginnings, cricket is now being played at 20 schools in the Laikipia area as well as in youth groups and two children’s homes.
I grab a drink from the bar and start chatting to some of the players outside on the deck. Friendly, eloquent and easy-going, Daniel Ltemulai Ole Mamai jokingly tells me that the decorative band on his teammate, Francis Tepele Ole Naimando’s leg, is made from the hair of a lion he killed the year before. I gush and guffaw, suppressing a hint of outrage, before Daniel finally relieves my gullibility and explains that it is in fact the hair of a white colobus monkey and was handed down to him by Francis’ father. Although traditional custom dictates that Maasai youth kill a lion before they can be called men and be eligible for marriage, Daniel explains to me that he and his teammates are conservationists and urge their community to rethink these customs and rather look to protect lion as a source of income to their communities through the travel and tourism trade.
We continue talking cricket, conservation and just about anything until both my pint glass and the final game of the afternoon near an end. As we leave Daniel urges me to visit Kenya and we exchange phone, email and even Facebook coordinates. I leave the ground greatly humbled by the message they and their enterprising conservationist-cum-cricket-coach have to tell the world. I am full of hope that a game I greatly love could also make a contribution to save wildlife and communities in Africa.
***The Last Man Stands competition ended 7th April 2012 and was won by Kings VIII from South Africa.The Maasai Warriors competed in the social Happy Hitters leg of the competition and found the going tough in their first tournament, managing one draw and three losses from their four games played***
Extra information and links:
Learn more about the Maasai Cricket Warriors
Watch this video about the Maasai Cricket Warriors
Check out the Last Man Stands competition