A story of strength behind the beads

Meet our two Maasai Mamas and discover the inspiring story of strength behind their Maasai beads…

As we celebrate #25yearsandBeyond, we are taking a trip down memory lane, reminiscing about the past and reconnecting with some of our most cherished moments and legendary people that comprise &Beyond’s rich and vibrant tapestry.

You might have read the story earlier this month about how guests can spend quality time with Tanzania’s Hadzabe tribe and truly connect, not only with an ancient land but also with the time-honoured traditions and simple way of life of its people.

Today, as we continue our journey through the many cultures of &Beyond, we share the heart-warming story of our beloved Maasai Mamas, two legendary #HumansofandBeyond.

The magnificent and breathtaking Ngorongoro Crater, now a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site and protected conservation area, was once home, not only to its current 30 000 mammals but also to the nomadic Maasai tribespeople. For centuries, people have been fascinated by these rural pastoralists and fierce warriors that live among lions. Each day, they graze and tend to their prized livestock, all the while peacefully coexisting with and sharing a mutual respect for Africa’s most fearsome predators.

Among the proud Maasai people that once inhabited the Crater floor, and who have since relocated their humble manyattas to the Crater rim, are Papei and May. Affectionately referred to as the Maasai Mamas at &Beyond Ngorongoro Crater Lodge, this hard-working duo sure has a formidable story to tell.

Born on the Crater floor, these modest women grew up surrounded by the Big Five. They never went to school and their days were spent gathering supplies, building their traditional mud and stick homesteads and raising their families.

In 1974, when the Crater floor was officially zoned for conservation, Papei, May and their families all moved up to the Crater rim, where they still reside today. Years later, when &Beyond Ngorongoro Crater Lodge was being built, both Papei and May’s husbands worked on the construction team, while the two entrepreneurial wives carried water and sold milk to the builders.

When the lodge was redesigned and reopened in 1997, the initial concept included a lawn area just outside the fort-like hub near the entrance that houses the services for the lodge. Keeping with &Beyond’s ethos of conservation and community development, the aim was to create an income stream for local Maasai women, who are often the least empowered within their communities.

We hoped to showcase Maasai craft in an authentic, yet easy-to-reach setting, connecting our guests directly with these talented women. During this time, the Maasai women were also engaged to make all the beaded lampshades for the chandeliers and light fittings in the lodge. They were also tasked with making coasters, water bottle holders and Christmas decorations.

Unfortunately, the often chilly and misty weather on the Crater rim was not conducive to a market. The ladies also had to travel quite a distance to get there every day, so the Maasai numbers dwindled quickly until it was only Papei and May that diligently showed up every day, come rain or shine, to sell their beadwork.

Needless to say, the group market was done away with and the Maasai Mamas moved their two-person beading business to the steps leading up to the Safari Shop. Each and every day for more than a decade, these ladies have been hard at work on those steps, fastidiously creating the most beautiful necklaces, bracelets, rings, belts, keychains and other beaded keepsakes.

Papei is one of four wives to her husband and together they have five children. His four marriages combined have produced an astounding 27 children, one of whom was May’s late husband. Now a widow, May was his only wife and together, they had seven children. I respectfully asked Papei how old she is, and they both laughed, explaining to the translator that they have no idea how old they are. How refreshing and utterly liberating not to be confined by age and its limitations.

Papei and May receive all proceeds from the sale of their beadwork and these much-needed funds help them to build and maintain their manyattas, send their 12 children to school and increase their herds of mbuzi (goat) and ng’ombe (cow).

The two beloved Maasai Mamas are an integral part of our guest experience and bring richness to an already diverse and dedicated lodge team. Next time you’re at &Beyond Ngorongoro Crater Lodge, please support Papei and May’s business. And while you’re browsing their beautiful beadwork, strike up a conversation with these humble women. They don’t speak a word of English, so you’ll need another staff member to help translate, but their life story is fascinating and you’ll go home all the richer for having met them.


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