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Facing the Lion: By Maasai Warriors

Disclaimer: We regret the loss of six cows, seven goats, seven sheep, one donkey and six lions in the outskirts of Nairobi National Park. From our sources the killing of six lions was not done to satisfy a cultural tradition. The herdsmen hunted the lions as an act of revenge for the loss of cattle. It is our hope that Kenya Wildlife Service and the Maasai of Ilkeek-Lemedung'I will meet soon and agree on a lasting solution to avert the loss of precious lions and Maasai cattle in the future. Maasai Association does not support lion hunt.

How do Maasai warriors hunt lions? 

Facing a lion in the African savanna is an experience of a life time. From this day your life will change forever. Hunting a lion is traditional, fun, and dangerous. The question is, why do the warriors do it?

The following are some of the cultural reasons, strategies, and tools used by the Maasai warriors on lion hunt. 

Lion hunt is a historical practice that played an important role in the Maasai culture. The practice is different from trophy hunting; it is symbolically a rite of passage rather than a hobby.

Why do the Maasai warriors hunt lions?

The Maasai tribe sees lion hunting experience as a sign of bravery and personal achievement. In the past, when the lion population was high, the community encouraged solo lion hunting. However, over the last ten years, due to the decline of the lion population, mainly because of rabies and canine distemper virus, the community has adapted a new rule that encourages warriors to hunt in groups instead of solo lion hunt. Group hunting, known in Maasai as olamayio, gives the lion population a chance to grow.

According to Maasai customary laws, the warriors are not allowed to hunt a lion, suffering from drought, snared or poison. The Maasai believe that females are the bearers of life in every species. As a such, it is prohibited to hunt a female lion-- unless the lioness has posed threat to human or livestock.

The Maasai understands that lions are important to the savanna's ecology and culture. For that reason, the Maasai takes extra caution when it comes to lion hunt. The Maasai warriors do not just go out and hunt lions because they can. The rules are there and are followed by every warrior

Lion hunting experience allows the Maasai warriors to show off their fighting ability on a non-human target. At the end of each age-set, usually after 10-15 years, the warriors must count all the lions hunted, then compare them with those hunted by the previous age-set. The purpose is to compare lion hunting ageaccomplishment between previous and current age-set.

Hunting a lion in a group 


Empikas (warrior delegation) plan for lion hunting a few days before the fact. The planning is done in a secret manner. No one in the community, other than the warriors, should know about the day of lion hunting. The game is so secret that Ilbarnot (young warriors) from the same age-set are denied information regarding lion hunting. Older warriors fears that young warriors could immaturely release information to groups that opposed lion hunting practice. If a warrior spreads rumors and is found guilty, his colleagues will punish him in the form of beating. In addition, the guilty warrior will be looked down upon throughout his entire age group's cycle.

Solo lion hunting 

It is not easy to hunt a lion alone. However, a many Maasai warriors have done it. Solo lion hunting requires confidence and advance hunting skills. A warrior must be passionate about the game. Unlike group hunting, solo lion hunting is usually happened at random, when the warrior is out herding cattle.

Lion hunting journey

The lion hunting journey starts at dawn, when elders and women are still asleep. The warriors sneaked out of the village in order to avoid discouragement from elders and women. They meet at a nearby landmark, for example, a tree, hill or rock. From here, the warriors depart to predetermined areas, where lions are most likely to be found. The warriors usually detect a lion by following footprints, animal droping and/ or vultures..

A few minutes before departure, the warriors must go through a sorting process. Ilmorijo (older warriors) must select a group of qualified comrades. This group is considered mature, strong and capable to fight a lion. The group is known as Ilmeluaya (fearless warriors) who are ready to die or live.

Ilbarnot (young warriors) who are disqualified would be send home for rest. Not every warrior would accept to return home. The rejection of young warriors has often waged a dispute between younger and older warriors. The warriors would fight with clubs and shields. Losers are always the younger warriors. Despite this, they still believe that the challenge is worth a try.

The fight between younger and older warriors could trigger a major conflict among older warriors. A warrior from the dominant group could raise a voice to defend a young warrior from his member clan or family. This situation can push the decision making process into extreme. Nevertheless, warriors treat group dynamics as part of the learning process.

The rejects, young warriors, are commanded by older warriors to keep the information of lion hunting confidential, until their colleagues return from hunting. Also, there have been cases whereby older warriors have forced young warriors to give up their spears and shields. This is an insult to young warriors, as extra weapons are not necessarily needed for lion hunting. (One spear can bring a lion down). The attitude of forcing young warriors to give up their weapons is deemed to encourage them to be a little more responsible.

When the older warriors return home with a lion, a one-week celebration will take place throughout communities. Women from various villages will embrace and hug the warrior that speared the lion first. The warrior will receive Imporro, a doubled-sided beaded shoulder strap. The warrior would wear this ornament during the milk ceremony, meat ceremony, and so on.

The success of lion hunting brings gratitude and excitement to the entire community. The achievement is perceived as individual bravery. The community will honor Olmurani lolowuaru (the hunter) with much respect throughout his lifetime. The hunter will also receive a nickname, for example, Miseyieki, from his colleagues. Miseyieki means no one will ever dare to mess with him. When the warriors attend ceremonies in other communities, they will praise their colleague through songs, so other warriors can acknowledge their member.

Where do the Maasai warriors find lions?
The lions are abundant throughout Maasailand. Their typical hideouts are grassy plains, deep forests, behind termite mounts, under the acacia trees, and other wild cozy places. The lion search ranges from 20 minutes to 10 hours. The Maasai warriors must chase a lion with rattle bells and make him upset. This chasing method forces a lion to develop anger and face the hunter. Another successful hunting method is to force a lion to move away from the kill. Any of these methods would provoke a fight with a lion. The game between warriors and lions is similar to that of a cat and a mouse.

Recommended safe environment when hunting a lion 

Fighting a lion inside intensely vegetated area can be extremely dangerous. The lion is as smart as men, and can maneuver through the bushes faster than a human being. For this reason, the Maasai warriors prefer to fight lions in the open plains. This is the best decision to make and best place to be. By doing so, the warrior would give a lion a chance to fight. Lion hunting is all about challenging another creature without cheating. Facing a lion in the open savanna is a memory of a life time!

What do the Maasai do with a dead lion? 

The Maasai depend strictly on livestock (cow, sheep and goat) and do not eat game meat. Three products are used from the lion: the mane, tail and claws. The mane is beautifully beaded by women of the community, and given back to the hunter. The mane is won over the head, only during special occasions. The mane helps warrior from far communities to identify the toughest warrior.

After the meet ceremony, when a warrior becomes a junior elder, he must throw the lion mane away. The warrior must make a sacrificial event for the mane prior to throwing it. At this time, the warrior must slaughter a sheep and grease the mane with a mixture of sheep oil and ochre. This sacrificial event is done to avoid bad spirits. The mane has special spiritual attachment to the warrior. It is a must for a warrior to honor the mane.

The lion tail is stretched and soften by the warriors, then hand it over to women of the community for beading. The warriors will receive the tail back when the beading service is complete. The warriors will keep and guide the lion's tail in their manyatta (warriors camp), until the end of warriorhood. The lion tail is the most valuable product in the practice of lion hunting. After graduation, a group of warriors must gather to pay their last special respect to the tail. The tail is thrown away after the eunoto ceremony.

How do the Maasai warriors pursue a lion tail?

The way of pursuing the lion's tail varied from section to section. For example, in the Irkaputiei section, when a lion is hunted, the warriors must wrestle in order to obtain the tail. The tail goes to the strongest warrior. In Irkisonko section, the tail goes to the warrior who first speared the lion.


Tools and requirements

The lion hunting game is about personal assignment, goal and dedication. The game is based on your background, environment and culture. The warriors do not need to attend a gym, and do not need a rifle for lion hunting. All you need is one spear and one shield. Keep in mind that many warriors have been lost to lions.

Note: The ideas, strategies, and tools shared in this chapter can only work in the Maasai world. Please do not attempt to use these ideas in your backyard! This is not a manual for lion hunting, rather information about the Maasai culture.




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Note: Maasai Association does not promote nor support lion hunting activities. Our purpose here is to educate the world about Maasai culture and the believes around lion hunting.

Facts about lion hunting by warriors

Imagine having a lion three meters away from you! Hunting a lion with a spear and shield is an experience of a lifetime.

Lion hunting was a rite of passage in the Maasai society. Warriors don't hunt lions for trophy. Lion hunting is symbolically a rite of passage.

Although lion hunting was an activity of the past, lions are still hunted when they mauled Maasai livestock. Cattle are central to Maasai livelihood.

Imagine losing your bank account to a scammer?

Losing cattle to lions is a tragedy to a Maasai family. Maasai income comes, solemnly, from the cows. Therefore, protecting the cows from lions is a matter of grave concern to every Maasai.

With compensation for cattle killed by lions, the warriors have been leaving the lions alone. A share of revenue generated from game reserves in Maasai land could only improve the situation.

Lions are not currently endangered but their life remain uncertain, not because of the warriors but because of rabies.

The practice of lion hunting and other wildlife has been banned in East Africa. Unless, of course, if you are wealthy enough to join the Western Hunters Club who pay an enormous amount of money to hunt lions for trophy. Otherwise, lion hunting has been outlawed in East Africa.