A typical cold danish winter day a plane from Africa landed at Copenhagen Airport. There was heaps of snow and the plantlife was hibernating, longing for its summer rebirth. On board was Olé Mapishi, in his blood red tribal garments, sandals and accesories. He never experienced real cold before and snow was foreign. He quickly realized that his old life was over.
“The first three months i wasn’t sure, that I could stay here, people were extremely busy and walking by in the streets and did not greet. All the plants and trees had no leaves and I thought everything was dead, it was a really confusing time for me,” says Olé.
But a cold danish winter was not enough to get Olé to give up. There was a stronger force in play. Love. While he was working at a danish resort back at home he fell deeply in love with a danish woman. He had to leave the arid plains of Africa. After one year, the two became three. Emma came to the world.
With the support of Mundu, a danish NGO, Olé did educational presentations at schools about his tribal culture and life on the bush. But today it was different. He was attending the fashion show at Aarhus Festival Week arranged by the organization, where you could experience clothing from all over the world. The little energetic Maasai girl was as an usual six year old plus a little african bush power, beeing all over the place.
“I have been with Mundo for the past couple of days at many different schools, telling kids about how you grow up as a Maasai. Then they asked me if I could come here in regards to the cultural differences in clothing and how they cross each other,” says Olé.
In the region where the Maasai live in Africa there are about 120 different tribes. Land grabbing by ranches, private hunting grounds and the local governments of Tanzania and Kenya has shrinked their grasslands, which the tribes are depended on because they live almost exclusively of their cattle. For the Maasai, cattle are what make the good life, and milk and meat are the best foods. Their old ideal was to live by their cattle alone — other foods they could get by exchange — but today they also need to grow crops. Their god, N’Gai, gave them the sacred task to take care of all the cattle in the world, which sometimes leads them to “free” other local tribes of their cattle in the belief of that it is the right thing to do.
“We move our herds from one place to another, so that the grass has a chance to grow again, this is made possible by a communal land tenure system in which everyone in an area shares access to water and pasture,” Olé says.
Nowadays Maasai have increasingly been forced to settle, and many take jobs in towns. Maasai society is organised into male age-groups whose members together pass through initiations to become warriors, and then elders.
By killing lions who prowl on the cattle, Maasai warriors protect their livestock and offically become men. Olé has had his fair share of encounters and is part of the tribal army. By himself, he ended the life of two lions and chased many more away with his Maasai club called Rungu. Here is how to kill a lion.
“We use our whole life learning how to handle and kill lions, so we are prepared. When you see your cow has been attacked, dont panic, almost everytime, the cow has broken its legs or back and is not of any use anymore. Then you wait ’til the lion has severed the neck of the cow feeding on the warm gushing blood and going into a frenzy, taking all its attention. Then you sneak up on the feasting lion and spear it,” the fearless warrior says.
Killing a lion is one of the biggest days in the life of a Maasai. Their people are known for doing a special dance, where they jump. In their common folklore, this jump is from when the first Maasai killed a lion and couldn’t keep himself from jumping in joy.
“First time I killed a lion I felt really cool and proud and jumped and jumped. For us it is very honorful to be able to save and protect your heard,” he says.
Having visited the lands of the Maasai many times with her dad, Emma abruptly interrupts him.
“I also have three cows but one died, but a new one just got born, so I have three again, that grandma is taking care of. I have milked them myself. It is not difficult, you should just not pull too hard,” Emma says with a big open smile.
She is not afraid of lions, hyenas or the dark as she has been accustomed to their culture.
Now it is eight years since Olé planted his feet on the danish snowy soil. After years working as a caretaker he decided to study and get his high school diploma. In the meantime disaster struck the new family and the love of his life was in a traumatic accident while riding her bike on the way home. She broke her neck and became paraplegic confining her to a wheelchair and needing his full care. Their love relationship crumbled to pieces and fate decided it was best for them to part ways and live their own separate lives.