Maasai chief comes to New London this week
Joseph ole Tipanko is chief of more than 5,000 Maasai, a nomadic, pastoralist people in Africa that live largely as their ancestors did.
Tipanko has been coming from his home country of Kenya to the U.S. for almost a decade to talk about his tribe’s ancient cultures and traditions and to help improve his tribe members’ lives.
This week, he makes his first trip to Connecticut. He has several public events scheduled in New London.
Tipanko and two other tribal members will give a presentation focusing on song, dance and culture at 7 p.m. Thursday at Connecticut College’s Charles E. Shain Library, in the Charles Chu Room.
They will perform during the Connecticut Storytelling Festival Friday and Saturday in New London. They will be part of the cabaret that starts at 7:30 p.m. Friday at All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church at 19 Jay St. They will also be part of the Gathering of Tellers 9 to 10:30 a.m. Saturday at All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church and will perform from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturday at the Thames Club at 290 State St., where visitors will learn about the Maasai traditions, way of life and modern existence.
And from 5 to 6:30 p.m. Thursday, they will be hosted at an open reception at Hygienic Art, 79 Bank St., New London.
The annual Maasai tours to America — which have included the Chief speaking at the United Nations — promote education, cultural exchange and global awareness.
In a phone interview from an earlier stop in New Jersey, Tipanko says, “Our main purpose of coming to the U.S. is to come and share our Maasai culture and lifestyle.” The hope is that particularly the students that they speak with will better understand the Maasai.
Maasai leaders also hope to raise funds to improve the lives of the people in their community and to learn more about farming skills while visiting, for example, cattle ranches in America. Tipanko says that the Maasai keep animals like cows, goats, sheep and donkeys.
“We have been able to try to keep our culture despite the changes of the 21st century,” Tipanko says.
He says the Maasai take care of their environment and live in harmony with their livestock and the wild animals that exist in the great savanna grasslands.
During his programs in the U.S., he tells students about school life for Maasai children — how they have to walk to school, often in scorching heat, and how they break pencils to share.
The Maasai have struggled with the fallout from recent world events, from COVID to the global economic down to drought.
The Massai lost a lot of cattle due to several years of drought, which Tipanko thinks is due to climate change.
“So many Massai people were made more poor,” he says.
The projects they are working on now include finishing building a school dormitory that will be a safe haven for girls who face the specter of early marriages and female genital mutilation.
Virginia Armstrong, the New York/Connecticut representative for the Massai tour, says, “The Maasai people still live in bomas, mud huts built by the women, surrounded by prickly fences to discourage predators. Most have no electricity or clean water within a very large radius of their homes. Young girls may walk miles for a jug of clean drinking water to cart home for their family and animals -- a dangerous trek. Education is provided by schools the Chief has built from our donations. Not all children can afford to go, however, since they must pay a small amount for uniforms and supplies. Also, they are needed at home, especially the boys, to lead their animals to find food and water.”
People who want to donate funds to help with the Massai’s basic needs, from food to clothing to education, can do so at www.leavingfootprints.org.