Dar’s Maasai

A new arrival to Dar could be forgiven for thinking that the men dressed in red checked and purple robes, white sandals and beaded anklets are wearing costumes for the benefit of tourists. (I’ve heard other people suggest this and, alas, the thought crossed my mind as well.) The Maasai are such symbols of the tourist industry here — and even have some kind of advertising cache inside the country, as the billboard below shows — that at first, it’s easy to doubt that people are going around dressed like that just because they want to.

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But in fact, the many young men in Dar in long bolts of cloth are dressing that way because those are the clothes they have and prefer. They are upcountry pastoralists that many people here refer to as Maasai (though a man from the Kilimanjaro area told me yesterday that most are not actual tribe members). I see them walking around the city selling things like belts, herbs and other odds and ends. Or just hanging out in the neighborhoods.

They also seem to be the security guards of choice for many of Dar’s nightclubs. At a place called the Irish Pub last night, there were at least 15 robed guys looking after vehicles, staffs in hand. A friend from Dar says they are favored for the job because they are supposedly warriors who are used to staying alert on long, dark nights. True or not, it’s interesting that there are multiple economic incentives for keeping one’s “traditional” identity and dress here in TZ.

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