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Posts tagged "masai"

Pharrell’s GQ Masai-inspired Cover Sparks Outrage From Masai Community.

The British have a terrible history when it comes to cultural sensitivity. Looking at this world map, one can see that the vastness of the once-British Empire is not a display of greatness, but rather the markings of a former global system of oppression of brutality that has left its mark on our world today. Whilst far from the level of British imperialism, Pharrell Williams’ happy-go-lucky self doesn’t have an outstanding track record when it comes to cultural appropriation either. Perhaps that’s why this pairing featuring British GQ and Pharrell Williams isn’t altogether shocking.

Earlier this year, the singer, rapper, producer and ‘New Black’ spokesperson swapped his Vivienne Westwood mountie hat for a Native American war bonnet as he posed on the cover of Elle UK. How he and the entire Elle UK Magazine crew have managed to miss the countless articles and posts that have been published and circulated widely online against this form of cultural appropriation, I have no clue. But it seems like neither camp was aware, cared or showed any concern about their offensive actions until they were lambasted on social media.

Prior to the shoot, the Elle UK Magazine’s website posted a description of the editorial saying, “We persuaded Elle Style Award winner Pharrell to trade his Vivienne Westwood mountie hat for a Native American feather headdress in his best ever shoot.” Post-criticism, the message was later changed to read, “We persuaded [Pharrell] … to collaborate with us on his best ever shoot.” This weak attempts at a “cover-up”, if you can call it that, shows that Elle didn’t quite got the message. Not only were they fully aware of what Pharrell Williams was wearing from the get-go (they referred to the item by name), they neglected to concern themselves with the significance behind the item. Rather odd as fashion magazines are notorious for publishing well-researched in-depth articles about the designers behind the clothing featured in their magazines - especially on their covers.

Posing in yet another Western fashion-related magazine, this time British GQ, Pharrell’s multi-page spread sees him wearing arbitrary face paint and items of clothing associated with Masai people. Shot by lens duo Hunter & Gatti, the two said about the shoot, “all the inspiration concept of the shoot is related to the Masai tribe paintings. We brought a real Masai tribe just to make the ambient music around the shoot and inspire Pharrell.” If you’re wondering what this ‘tribe’ looked like or what the so-called ‘ambient music’ sounded like, GQ posted a video of the behind-the-scenes action on YouTube. But what’s really frightening in this case isn’t their overuse of the word ‘tribe’, it’s how they refer to the Masai people and culture as nothing more than items and props to be used at their disposal exposing the ways cultural appropriation rids a people of agency. That and how this cover makes Pharrell a repeat offender and serial cultural appropriator.

Whilst there has been outrage from members of both the Masai community and people leaving comments on Kenyan blogs concerning the commercial use of their culture, it is yet to receive the attention it deserves in mainstream media making a formal apology less likely in this case. What’s more, the specific use of Masai culture as a source of ‘inspiration’ speaks to the greater problem of companies that have been profiting from the image of the Masai, an already marginalized group in their home country, for decades.

In a BBC interview, Lemayian Ole kereto, an elder from the Masai community, expresses some key concerns with regards to the case against appropriation. Not only is cultural appropriation an act of suppression done primarily for commercial gain and usually enacted on already oppressed and marginalized groups, the use of “culture without consent” is never complimentary as it disregards the history, traditions and identities of those it depicts and affects the most. Ole kereto further adds that without prior consent from those representing the communities or culture in question, use of any facet of their culture falls directly into the real of cultural appropriation. If no body or agency exists that represents the majority or totality of the people in question, then companies should then refrain from this form of cultural ‘borrowing”. Ownership must be respected at all times.

Often, when discussing the issue of cultural appropriation, the question of whether or not it can be complimentary or not is sure to arise. The answer, quite simply, is no. Cultural appropriation has no benefits to those it affects. Cultural sensitivity and awareness are at the crux of addressing issues pertaining to cultural appropriation. When buying or making use of an item that is said to represent or belongs to a certain community, it is important to inform oneself of who is benefiting from this transaction. There is a possibility that cultural “borrowing” can benefit all parties involved. As Ole kereto says, “partnership attracts responsibility” which in turn creates effective awareness beyond commercial gain and profitability.

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I have expressed how I feel about this piece elsewhere but I have to add my 2 cts to this discussion as a Kenyan Maasai Woman. What I find disturbing about it;

Of course the obvious ‘white savior’ aspect – she came, she did and now we all should be able to follow suit. Like we needed her to come show us the way. Who told her we want to be ‘warriors’? Who told her we need to be ‘warriors’ to make a ‘difference’?
The culture insensitivitya of it all – that she can just trot into the wilderness and claim to be a ‘warrior’ after a month WTF it takes about 15 years to be a Moran and even then some don’t make it – so what is she saying – the Maasai morans are slackers?
Insulting to the many Maasai women and Maasai Culture in general. Especially all the brilliant women working towards equality for themselves and girls. As far as I know Maasai women don’t become warriors and don’t want to be warriors But if they want to and choose to…they don’t need an ‘outsider’ to come fight their fight for them. We can fight our own battles ourselves thank you! and ps: we are and continue to in ways that are respectful to our culture and our traditions. How would Native Americans feel if someone showed up did a few sun dances, slept in a tee pee and then claims to be a navajo warrior or something! idiocy!
That she is making money off of this! That hurts! No difference between her and the colonialist or the slave traders….in my view she just came to take period! I would like to know if any of her book proceeds go back to the any of the people she used.
Lastly we have to look on our side as well. Why is it so easy for us to sell ourselves like this? I mean i understand the money aspect but how do we prevent/educate our own folks from disgracefully selling themselves like this? If this woman was not a ‘mzungu’ she would never have had this experience let alone write about it. Are we still enslaved in our minds or what?

These are just my views and i don’t speak for my entire community, am sure there are some that will differ.

Rarin Ole Sein, a Kenyan Maasai woman, responding to the over-hyped (BBC, Guardian, Glamour) white savior “‘Eat, Pray, Love’ comes to Africa” memoir by US entrepreneur Mindy Budgor, about her travels to Kenya that led to her becoming the ‘first female Maasai warrior' (oh the nerve!).

Whilst we’re on the subject of white saviorism and ‘nerve’, we might as well lay out just how and why Mindy was in Kenya in the first place. According to her interview with Glamour, she’d told her parents that she’d been ‘been sponsored by an athletic apparel company to train to be a warrior as part of a marketing plan,’ which turned out to be a lie (the sponsorship part, that is).

After starting her own company in college and gaining enough success through it to become financially independent and eventually sell it, Mindy felt as though the luxuries that were becoming common place in her life just weren’t fulfilling enough for her anymore (is this sounding familiar to anyone?). With that, she eventually made the decision to change the world, saying to herself that in a year’s time, she wanted to be “in a developing country, doing something that actively made the world a better place.” So why Kenya? Well, apart from the fact that it seems to be a hotspot for people on savior missions, it was through a friend that Mindy was tipped off on both travelling there and wanting to discover the ways of Maasai warriors.

Once in Kenya, and after hearing about how women in Maasai culture were prevented from training as warriors, the California-native was determined to pass by years of tradition and history in a few weeks and use every ounce of privilege she had to become the first woman Masaai warrior ever. She even admitted to not giving a second thought to both her sense of privilege and entitlement (referring to it as a ‘chance’ and matter of ‘opportunity’) saying:

'I know how crazy this all sounds—a Jewish girl from California getting this chance. Why me? Why not Faith? I didn't even think to ask those questions at the time. I just knew if I was given this opportunity, I wasn't going to squander it.'

With the both of them going public with their colonial fantasies,  sentiments and experiences, all in the same week, something tells me Mindy and Prince William would get along like a house on fire.

And just in case you’re a little curious about the alluring factors behind Budgor’s literary excellence, Glamour’s given us a spectacular excerpt from her book that should cancel our any doubt you had concerning her prose:

That afternoon we headed into the bush. We brought nothing but the bare essentials (for me, that included a bottle of Chanel Dragon red nail polish—it just made me feel fierce—and a set of pearl earrings as a reminder of home) and our warrior gear: two tartan sheets that we would wrap around us as clothing, and the metal tips for our spears.


Our first task was to collect leaves and branches to sleep on. That was backbreaking, but the hardest task came next: killing a goat. The Maasai suffocate their goats, which they believe is the most humane way to kill. I was petrified, but not about to wimp out on day one, so I held its mouth closed until it went limp. Another warrior slit its throat, then everyone stepped forward to drink fresh blood from its neck. I closed my eyes and did it. Minutes later I vomited.

But my favourite part of the part of her book that was featured on Glamour’s website is:

After 31 cuts in the tree, our final test was to return to Lanet’s village to dance at two weddings. Would the villagers accept us as one of their own, or would we be rejected? We danced and sang all night, then one of the Maasai men lunged at me with his spear, shouting that white girls had no place at this party.


An unnamed Rashaida bride from Eritrea (left) wearing a burga, Nosianai (center), a Masai bride from Kenya, and Zanelle (right) an Ndebele bride from South Africa.

Photographs by Carol Beckwith and Angela Fisher

AUGUST: Highlighting African Women


Maasai combs, Kenya

The Tanzanian government has ordered thousands of Masai to abandon traditional grazing lands to make way for a conservation site.

But the Maasai are refusing to leave their ancestral land. They say the real reason they are being forced out is to give a Dubai-based hunting company exclusive access.

Wildlife Instead, the hunting company, says that it will bring clients in for a six-month season and the Maasai can graze their cattle out of season. However, researchers say that the livestock are a part of the area’s ecosystem.

Al Jazeera’s Peter Greste reports from Lolyondo in northern Tanzania.

Two Masai Warriors

Artist: Gail Zavala

The people of Kenya’s Maasai Mara are struggling to preserve their culture and environmental heritage.

On behalf of Al Jazeera’s ‘Witness’ series, filmmakers Tom Evans and Kevin Rushby look into thecommercial development, in favour of tourism, that is threatening Maasai traditions as well as the wildlife in the region, and the initiatives of the Naboisho Conservancy project that aim to preserve the ownership of Maasai land and the natural environment within and surrounding it.

(read more)

The girlfriend of a young Masai man measures and admires his hair.

Amongst the Masai, warriors are the only members of the community permitted to wear their hair long, which is usually woven into tiny twists that are dressed and styled with animal fat and ocher. Some then use cotton or wool threads to lengthen their hair.

When become elders and go through the Eunoto, their long locks are shaven off.

(East Africa, circa 1967 | Ph: Mirella Ricciardi)