| The Maasai are an indigenous African ethnic group of semi-nomadic people located in Kenya and northern Tanzania. Due to their distinctive customs and dress and residence near the many game parks of East Africa, they are among the most well-known African ethnic groups internationally. They speak Maa, which is a part of the Nilo-Saharan language family — similar languages include Dinka, Nuer, Turkana — and Songhai, and are also educated in the official languages of Kenya and Tanzania: Swahili and English. The Maasai population has been variously estimated as 377 089 from the 1989 Census or as 453,000 language speakers in Kenya in 1994 and 430000 in Tanzania in 1993 with a total estimated as "approaching 900 000". Estimates of the respective Maasai populations in both countries are complicated by the remote locations of many villages, and their semi-nomadic nature.
Although the Tanzanian and Kenyan governments have instituted programs to encourage the Maasai to abandon their traditional semi-nomadic lifestyle, the people have clung to their age-old customs.
Maasai's society is strongly patriarchical in nature with elder men, sometimes joined by retired elders, deciding most major matters for each Maasai group. A full body of oral law covers many aspects of behaviour. Formal execution is unknown, and normally payment in cattle will settle matters. An out of court process called 'amitu', 'to make peace', or 'arop', which involves a substantial apology, is also practiced.
The Masaai are monotheistic, and their God is named Enkai or Engai. Engai is a single deity with a dual nature: Engai Narok (Black God) is benevolent, and Engai Nanyokie (Red God) is vengeful. The "Mountain of God", Ol Doinyo Lengai, is located in northernmost Tanzania. The central human figure in the Maasai religious system is the laibon who may be involved in: shamanistic healing, divination and prophecy, insuring success in war or adequate rainfall. Whatever power an individual laibon had was a function of personality rather than position. Many Maasai have become Christian, and to a lesser extent, Muslim.
A high infant mortality rate among the Maasai has led to babies not truly being recognized until they reach an age of 3 moons. The end of life is virtually without ceremony, and the dead are left out for scavengers. Burial has been reserved for great chiefs, since it is believed to be harmful to the soil.
Traditional Maasai lifestyle centers around their cattle which constitutes the primary source of food. The measure of a man's wealth is in terms of cattle and children. A herd of 50 cattle is respectable, and the more children the better. A man who has plenty of one but not the other is considered to be poor. A Maasai myth relates that God gave them all the cattle on earth, leading to the belief that rustling cattle from other tribes is a matter of taking back what is rightfully theirs, a practice that has become much less common.