Tassia Lodge is situated in the North of Kenya in the Laikipia area, on the 60,000-acre Lekurruki community ranch. It is partly owned by the Mokogodo Masai, in a symbiotic relationship between community and conservation. Tassia is less about animals and more about the local community, which is something we liked. It is also different from other camps and lodges in that its excursions are on foot, which we like as well. Finally, it’s at a lower elevation (about 3400 ft / 1100 m), which means higher temperatures; it allows the “rooms” to be open. It’s very nice and results in some unexpected visitors :- )
Laikipia is the area of the Mokogodo tribe. These people were hunters and gatherers who lived in caves, but in the first half of the 20th century decided to convert to herding livestock and adopt the way of life, language, and traditions of the Masai. The last tribe member to left his cave in the late 1980-ies. They adopted all Masai traditions, except the one of female genital mutilation (which has also pretty much disappeared from the Masai traditions now). They do have one tradition that is reminiscent of their hunter and gatherer history: when a boy is 8 years old, he is expected to have acquired 3 skills that will allow him to survive in the wilderness: find water, find food, and make fire, and he will have to show that he masters these skills by being dropped, alone, in a place in the wilderness. To find water he needs to walk in a certain pattern to find animal tracks and follow the tracks to water, food can be animals or nuts/fruits of plants and fire is made with a piece of hardwood and a specific softwood stick and dried cow dung or “elephant chewing gum” (see earlier post) as a starter.
Our guide (Asaya) was extremely knowledgeable and we had great conversations about tribal life, present-day Kenya and learned his life story. It once more reminded us how much in our lives depends on luck and how much talent there is here that hopefully will get more opportunities in future generations.
Our hosts, Martin and Antonia are 4th-generation white Kenyans. It was very interesting to learn about the way in which they work with the local community in the area on changing some of their habits to help conserve nature while improving their lives. Traditionally, their goal is to have as much livestock as possible; one could think of this as the equivalent of having money in the bank for us. Frequent draughts make this very difficult as some of the livestock dies and it competes with wildlife for the scarce resources. Martin and Antonia are working with them to transition to a model in which they have less, higher quality livestock that can be used as a source of income, receive income from the tourist industry, and have access to basic financial services. It’s not an easy process, but progress is being made.
While at the Tassia lodge, we visited the cave where the last Mokogodo cave dweller lived, a traditional blacksmith and a local “village”. We did one walking safari looking for animals and one to learn about some of the many uses of plants and trees by the Masai tribe.
This was one of the most interesting and enjoyable visits for us and we would have liked to spend an extra day.
The pictures that follow are about each of these experiences.
The lodge common area
Visitors: we had a wild cat, a “dassie” and a snake enter our room; the wild cat and the dassie were too quick to leave for a picture, but the snake dwelled around (it was not a venomous one).
This is a dassie, but not the one that came into our room; they are funny animals that -quite surprisingly- evolved from the same roots as the elephants!
Making fire in the cave of the last Mokogodo cave dweller
Preparing the hole in the hardwood
Put some sand in the hole and make friction with a softwood stick
Now it’s hot enough to cause the dried cow dung to catch fire
Add a few twigs and we have a fire
You have to belong to a specific clan to be trained as a blacksmith. They make Spears and arrow points (now only used in traditional ceremonies) as well as ornaments that men and women wear.
The local village
People usually live in a village for a few years and then move to a new location. This village was about to be abandoned and our guide told us that it looked more dilapidated than a newer village. The people that live here are clearly very poor; no running water or electricity. Their livestock is their main source of food and as well as their currency. The woman make some handicrafts that they sell to tourists.
A family lives in this home; really just used for sleeping and to store some belongings; no natural or artificial light
Inside: bed for the adults
We weren’t much worse at bow and arrow than the Masai “warriors”, but they did better at shot put and javelin…
“Giraffe antelopes” are plenty here
Guinea Fowl looks different here
These ants close their underground nest for the rain and manage to stay dry that way. They also get food as far as 1 km away.
We saw a few Kudu’s
The “Ant Lion” builds this funnel as a trap for other ants and eats them. He’s super-fast (hence the fuzzy picture) and has big jaws, but it still took some 10 tries before this poor and was done…
Termites don’t survive in daylight, so they make these tunnels to get around…
Plants, trees and their use
We did one walk just to learn about ways in which the Masai use plants, trees and their fruits in their daily lives. We were amazed about the many equivalents to our industrialized tools and medications they use. This is not an exhaustive list of everything we saw, but it should give you a feel.
These nasty thorns of the young Acacia tree make excellent toothpicks
Remember this plant from a previous post? Mother-in-law tongue or elephants chewing gum. It has more uses…
The fibers of the long leaves are used, together with the needle from the Acacia tree, as a thread for sewing…
And the chewed-out fiber that is spit out by elephants is an excellent fire started if dried cow dung is not around
The stalks of the plant are also used for a funny game, in which they throw sliced segments of the stalks over quite a long distance and very accurately.
The inside of this fruit is used as soap; it even foams…
These leaves are super-soft and strong and are used as tissues
These leaves are just the opposite, they have a very coarse surface and is used as sandpaper
These little balls stick to your pants and shoes during walks through the bush (they call them sticky balls for a reason) and even stick to your hands when you try to remove them; very annoying
But the Masai use them to make a sieve…
These tiny fruits have (small) tasty and nutritious nuts inside
The juices of this plant are used to treat malaria
Women who are breastfeeding use the fruit of this bush