I’m working on my 18th trip to Kenya in December. On my second trip to Kenya, I saw a Maasai elder with a deep scar across his chest. I asked my friend, Christopher, a Masai elder, what happened to him?
Christopher said, “Oh, he was first to the lion … He is lucky to be alive!”
I found out that day, how and why lions are killed by the Maasai warriors.
Fifty years ago, to be a true Maasai warrior, you had to kill a lion! Unfortunately for the lions and the warriors, lions became scarce so the government put a stop to this practice. As you might expect, the killing of a lion as a right of passage as a warrior continued with tacit approval of the authorities.
As best as I can tell, here is how it works:
A group of 30-plus warriors early in the morning spot a lion sitting on their usual perch — an ant hill.
The warriors are armed with a spear and shield. They quietly form a large circle surrounding the lion. The warriors quietly decrease the size of the circle As the circle gets smaller, the lion figures out that he or she is in mortal danger.
The lion waits until the circle tightens and then charges what the lion perceives is the weakest link! In other words the weakest looking warrior. The warrior that is the target of the lion stands his ground and awaits the leap. At the moment of the lion being in the air the warrior holds the spear as tight as he can and plunges it into the lion.
Whether the warrior lives or dies depends on how fast the other warriors can get to the lion to finish the lion off. Their response must be within seconds of the initial charge of the lion. I am told that about one third of the warriors don’t make it.
What is the reward. If a lion is killed then all of the 30 warriors are credited with becoming true warriors and are credited with the kill. The warrior making first contact with the lion wears the mane of the lion for two weeks and he has his choice of any single girl in the village for his friend for the two week period.
These hunting parties are rare fortunately, but 25 years ago I was given the opportunity to participate.
I quickly declined on moral and chicken grounds.