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Warrior Shoot

Dear family and friends.

18 July 2005

I had a really fabulous photo shoot yesterday that I thought I would share with you all:

As many of you know, living and working deep in Maasai-land for this past year has offered up some incredible experiences! I recently had one such experience and it all began a few nights ago, when talking to one of our Maasai guides. He was telling us about the Maasai tradition of spearing lion! In years gone by, the young warriors would plan a secret hunt and slip away from their villages under the cover of darkness. Their hunting technique would simply involve chasing the lion on foot until it ran out of energy. The Maasai might not have the speed of a cat but they have unbelievable stamina and this plays in their favour. The lion would inevitably retreat into a thicket and the warriors would encircle the beast, leaving a larger gap on one side of the circle, in which the designated killer would stand. The lion then, in an attempt to escape, would invariably attack the warrior standing in the largest gap and using his shield for protection, he would drive his spear through the beast’s heart.

This tradition has largely died out and the Kenyan government has in fact outlawed the practice. However, the Maasai’s entire lives revolve around their cattle and even in this day and age they will, without blinking an eye, spear a lion should their cattle be threatened. Traditionally, once the lion had been speared, the successful warrior would remove the lion’s mane (amongst other body parts), and a headdress would be made - one of the ultimate symbols of warrior-hood and only adorned by the most fearless of young men. These headdresses are now seldom seen in Maasai-land as time goes by; they will most likely become even scarcer.

When our guide, whose English name is Innocent (anything but), told me that he knew of someone with such a headdress, my photographic instincts were instantly aroused. Where we are now living, there are no other camps and no through-roads. Subsequently, the Maasai have hardly had any contact with westerners and are still fabulously traditional. This meant that if I could find the owner of the headdress, I could potentially photograph an authentic warrior! I asked Innocent to drive up to a series of villages called Upper Pakasi at the base of the Loita Hills, were this warrior of yesteryear was believed to reside. Not long thereafter, Innocent radioed through to say that he had located him and that he would bring him down to meet me. I decided to rather go and meet the moran (warrior) myself, to see if I could persuade him into a photo-shoot out on the salt flats of Natron?

When I drove to the village, I was greeted by the impressive sight of the moran, dressed in all his traditional regalia! This included a large red, black and white shield made of buffalo skin (which he too had speared) as well as a rungu (similar to the Zulu knopkirrie). Around his shins, he wore the black and white skin of a Colobus Monkey, which he would have speared up in the Loita Hills - the traditional training ground for warriors. In his left hand he held a traditional Wildebeest’s tail. When hearing that I was interested in taking his portrait, he disappeared momentarily only to reappear covered in war paint made from red ochre; a clay-based pigment and very popular amongst the Maasai. On his head he wore the impressive headdress consisting of a lion’s mane, which he himself had speared. In his right hand he held a long traditional spear, a section of which had been bent where the lion had grabbed it! He stood well over six foot and standing there in his proud posture, he certainly did look like a warrior!

From there we drove out onto the salt flats of Natron where I wanted to capture a surreal type frame, eluding to the mystery of the warrior and paying tribute to his awesome culture. Film was the medium of choice and the shoot went really well as he was tangibly proud and pleased for me to be photographing. Living and working amongst the Maasai for over a year now, we find them accepting and embracing. What a great honour it was to be able to photograph a traditional and authentic warrior!

I have often sat close to lion in vehicles (and once in a waterhole), and I have always been awed by the size of their paws and the general brute strength of the cat. To think that the man I was photographing had, single handedly speared and killed such a beast was indeed impressive. I took a series of close-up images as well as a few landscapes in an attempt to somehow congeal the ‘warrior spirit’ of yesteryear. Ironically, many of the frames looked staged as if a modern actor were adorning the paraphernalia? For me anyhow, it was an amazing experience, just knowing that the man I was looking at through my lens, had in fact speared the lion whose mane he now wore on his head!

The next time you visit the bush and see a large male lion, remember this story and imagine climbing out the car with nothing but a spear and a shield?

Looking forward to showing you all the pics.


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