Post # 1
I’m posting this because this issue came up at a conference I was at recently, and I recalled that several of you have booked, or are planning to book your honeymoons for safaris in Kenya and/or Tanzania.
While there, even off of the wildlife parks, you will likely see Maasai people. Unlike most of the tribal people of that region, they’ve clung to the traditional herding lifestyle, their traditional dress and culture, and avoid marrying non-Maasai. They stand out, and, objectively speaking – tend to be very pleasing to the eye.
And most importantly – they are not safari animals.
I know that sounds like a ridiculous thing to say, but it needs to be said. They are the most photographed “people” in the world, and this tends to happen in an expoitative manner. You wouldn’t walk up to someone’s kid in line at the grocery store and take his picture. You wouldn’t try to be all sneaky and take pictures of your waiter without asking. They’re not idiots – they see the cameras, and they know whats going on. They’re in a very tough position because they rely on the tourism industry to provide the income that allows them to continue their traditional lifestyle on reserve lands, but they do not appreciate being treated like attractions in a wildlife park.
If you are in that region, and wish to photograph a Maasai person, PLEASE puhhhhleeeeeeeeeease ask their permission and offer them a small amount of money. Or, if they are selling goods – make a purchase from them. Never – EVER EVER photograph their children without their parents’ permission!!! I will never understand why people feel the rules are different in Africa than they are here – but it seems like everyone does it! If you do photograph them, thank them. Don’t be sneaky about it. They are more willing to pose with you in a photograph than have you photograph them alone because they know thats less likely to be a picture you’ll try to profit from. Ask their names. Ask them how their day is going. You will find this to be a much more rewarding experience, even if it costs you a few bucks.
If you are on a safari group and see others taking pictures of people without asking, please speak up. The fact that many groups of Maasai allow tourists to walk around their villages and check them out is a priviledge… and one that can easily be lost – to the disadvantage of everyone – if people are not respectful.
Post # 3
This is true.
Also, if you do take a picture without asking, be prepared to pay whatever they ask. If you ask first, you can agree to a price.
Post # 4
Thanks for the Public Service Announcement. =)
You’re right, they are in a weird position — they rely on tourism but that doesn’t mean they should be treated like the attraction.
Post # 5
@mandypop: Nice perspective. I like to think that I was aware of what you said (am one of the ones going to TZ), but a reminder never hurts.
Truthfully I think tourists everywhere need a reminder to be respectful of the culture, people and environment of where they are visiting.
Post # 6
“Truthfully I think tourists everywhere need a reminder to be respectful of the culture, people and environment of where they are visiting.”
TRUE STORY. Any culture that heavily depends on a tourist economy is put in an unfortunate position of not wanting to make a stink even when they feel exploited – they want people to keep visiting!! But if someone took a picture of someones child in say…NYC without asking, the mother would probably not think twice (myself included) to rip the camera right out that person’s hands and take the memory card out, if not more.
This issue came up at a medical conference because a lot of the presenters powerpoints had pictures of children in them. It was brought up that you can’t do that with children here in the US unless the parents have signed waivers – the response was “well, tourists do it all the time” – as if that makes it okay!!
Post # 7
I think this is an excellent post and should be a reminder to us all to be mindful of others.
This relates not only to the Masai people – but all peoples and cultures.
I know in some cultures they feel taking a picture takes part of your soul – so it’s very harmful for them to have their picture taken.
I think asking (even if there is a language barrier) is respectful. (Sign language and pointing does wonders!)
Post # 8
Spot on. I was going to say the same thing as previous posters that this applies to all people EVERYWHERE, not just Kenya/Tanzania. I’ve unfortunately seen this happen all over the world – from traditional Thai people from the hilltribe villages to people from remote villages from China; it never fails to invoke a desire in me to go over to the tourists and remind them that these are people, not tourist attractions! One of the best things about travelling is the ability to interact with different cultures and experience different ways of life but respecting that they are people too is such a crucial thing that sadly a lot of travellers seem to forget.
That being said, the Masai people of Kenya are incredibly friendly and more often than not will be happy to allow you a photo if you smile at them, say hello, and ask permission. We had nothing but lovely interactions with the people we met there, but the key issue was that we were friendly, chatted with them, and asked before taking a photo.
It’s all about respect for all people.