The Maasai morans from the Maasai Mara’s Siana Conservancy have recently dominated world headlines for choosing to turn their spears away from killing animals, leaving the same instruments just for sporting purposes.
The young men have elected to surrender the dreaded spears, instead directing their energies toward a competition aimed at celebrating Earth Hour in solidarity with more than 185 countries and territories, inspiring individuals and organizations worldwide to take action for the environment.
Earth Hour, organized by World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), is a global grassroots movement uniting people to take action on environmental issues and protect the planet. Engaging a massive mainstream community, Earth Hour was famously started as a lights-out event in Sydney, Australia in 2007.
This year, the conservation agency, organized the celebrations to mark this day deep in the Mara’s Siana Conservancy where, among other things, Maasai morans engaged in a Javelin Throwing competition.
Chants rent the air as morans to turned up and jumped high as if trying to reach to the sky. I quickly got captivated by one of them and I seek to engage him about the whole spectacle. Anthony Njapit was holding a javelin at the time. I later learn he is also a landowner within the conservancy.
As we chat about this year’s extravaganza, he narrates to me how in the past, the Maasai community thought of animals as the enemy. Things however took a different turn when the community started getting sensitization and being educated on conservation. He tells me that is how they all appreciated they ought to co-exist with wildlife.
Japit like many other morans used his spear as a weapon against the lions and elephants especially after they invaded his farms killing livestock and destroying crops.
“We no longer use a spear to wage war on wildlife, we have now turned to sustainable ways of protecting our homes from predators. Some of these interventions include the use of lion lights, and having predator-proof bomas to deter them from attacking especially at night,” he says.
The 34-year-old says he practiced javelin throw since his heydays in high school. The sport has seen him win accolades at the national level.
Speaking to KBC Digital, Japit says he hopes one day he will turn out just like Kenya’s hero in the sport, World javelin medalist Julius Yego, who has excelled in the sport.
Peter Sena, Mara Conservancy Liason Officer, agreeing with Japit says that the sport is a big win for the morans and the community at large.
“Initially, the Maasai community and wildlife were grave enemies, morans used to compete on the number of wildlife they had killed in measure of strength. The same morans have now realized that they can live with the animals and even generate revenue from them through tourism,” he says.
Giving a brief history of the conservancy that started in 2016, Sena says there are 3,500 landowners in the community-donated 6.5 acres of land out of their individual 42-acre parcels.
“They gave the land purposefully towards conservation and also to serve as grass banks for their livestock. 99 percent of the staff in the conservancy is also locals who are benefitting directly from the conservancy,” he says.
Julius Yego, who joined the celebration albeit virtually due to his rigorous training schedule, said that through the Talanta Hela project, a flagship plan to monetize talents in sports and the creative industry, he will front the idea of the Maasai morans who are engaging in Javelin Throwing and how the program would be supported long term.
“For me, my talent was discovered in school but not everyone has that chance to enroll, so chances of being noticed are very slim. Through Talanta Hela, we can come up with ideas whereby we can hold competitions from different regions and pick the crème de la crème of the competitors and enroll them into the Sports Academy,” he said.
Yego who was recently appointed as one of the Talanta Hela Council and Sports Technical Committee members expressed satisfaction for the reason that morans had chosen a more progressive path away from their past ways.
“Human-wildlife conflict is an existing challenge in the Maasai community, but we have to shun regressive and extreme ways of dealing with it and instead come up with more ways of living in harmony with wildlife. Killing lions and elephants has a negative effect on tourism which generates revenue for the communities. In addition, the Mara is well known for its wildlife hence the need to protect and preserve it even for our future generations,” he said.
He urged the morans to identify an area where they would practice and hone their skills.
“I would be elated if Narok County had a stadium for the people to practice in well-established grounds. The County Governments can also manage the stadiums to standards where constituents can nature their talents.”
The Talanta Hela project is in line with the government’s bottom-up economic transformation agenda and aims to identify, recruit, nurture, market, and monetize talent.
Kevin Gichangi, WWF-Kenya Project Coordinator Mara Sub-Land Scape, said the main idea behind the event was to introduce a sport to support conservancy by encouraging the morans to participate in conservation.
“This is a strategy that can pick up over time. Today, we have seen a lot of local talent here. I feel there is a lot of hidden talent in this area when it comes to Javelin as a sport.”
Regarding human-wildlife conflict, the project coordinator acknowledged that due to the high number of wildlife in the ecosystem, the chances of conflict remain high.
“Over the years we have been working with the Mara Siana Conservancy supporting the land owners to pool their land together and manage it sustainably for wildlife to ensure their ecosystem thrives as well as benefit from income that will improve their livelihoods,” he said.
In addition, Gichangi said the organization has provided lion lights and predator-proof bomas to mitigate some of the conflict encountered within the landscape by deterring the predators from attacking their livestock.