Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Acronyms, Wikipedia.




(mäsī`), a largely nomadic pastoral people of E Africa, chiefly in Kenya and Tanzania. Cattle and sheep form the basis of the economy that they have maintained in resistance to cultural change. The Masai live off the milk, blood, and meat of their livestock. Masai society is patrilineal; polygyny is practiced. Boys are initiated into a warrior age-group responsible for herding, killing predators, and other tribal labors; only after serving as a warrior may a man marry. The Masai, who are characteristically tall and slender, traditionally live in the kraal, a compound within which are mud houses. In some areas the traditional pastoralism of the Masai has come into conflict with wildlife conservation and the tourism associated with it.


See A. C. Hollis, The Masai: Their Language and Folklore (1905, repr. 1971); G. Hanley, Warriors and Strangers (1971).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2013, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(self-designation, il-masai) a people living in Kenya and Tanzania. Total population, about 370,000 (1967, estimate).

The Masai language belongs to the Nilotic language family. Traditional beliefs (cult of natural forces, ancestor worship) and vestiges of a clan tribal system survive. The majority of Masai are herdsmen, wandering from place to place in search of good pastures. The socioeconomic development of independent Kenya and Tanzania is leading to gradual change in the Masai’s traditional way of life and to the decline of their clantribal system.


Merker, M. Die Masai: Ethnographische Monographic eines ostafrikanischen Semitenvolkes. Berlin, 1904.
Huntingford, G. W. B. The Southern Nilo-Hamites. London, 1953.



(Maasai, Maa), the language of the Masai people, spoken in northern Tanzania and southwestern and western Kenya, by approximately 370,000 people (1967, estimate).

Masai is related to the Nilotic language family. It has three dialects: Masai proper, Njemps (Ntiamus), and Samburu (Sampur). Masai has 18 vowels; the consonant system includes the glottalized (preglottalized) injectives b, d, j, g. Phonological tones exist. Vowel harmony occurs in the word according to the feature of openness (i, u, e, o) and closedness (i, u, e, o). Word inflection is partly of the fusion type (suffixes or infixes) and partly agglutinative (personal verb conjugation prefixes, classes). Verb classes indicate direction of movement and change the verb’s relation to its object (a-isúj “to wash something,” a-isuj-yé “to wash with [by means of] something”). There are two cases: an absolute case and a subject case. The noun is marked by a prefix (article), which differs according to gender and number.


Tucker, A. N., and J. T. O. Mpaayei. A Maasai Grammar. London, 1955.
Hollis, A. C. The Massai: Their Language and Folklore. Oxford, 1905.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
Black Country funnyman Masai Graham beat the cream of British comedy to the punchline
STAND-UP GUY Masai Graham won Funniest Joke at the Fringe
For longer days out in the wild, picnic boxes are packed so that more ground can be covered across the Masai Mara.
About 360 of these lion-proof fences have been built in 12 communities in the Masai steppe region over the past five years, and there is a long list of villages waiting for installation.
Masai is 20-1, while Harry Trotter is 33-1 and Bubbly Bellini is 40-1 for the sprint on June 21.
The Masai species of giraffe is found in East Africa, largely southern Kenya and northern Tanzania.
PRIDE: Newly-christened cubs Poppy and Willow with mum Masai at Knowsley Safari Park
Emaar Hospitality Group has responded favourably to our country's call for more investment in tourism and the Masai Mara venture is a timely boost to the sector," said Hon Danson Mwazo, Kenya's Tourism Minister.
Propeller planes are often used to take tourists to the Masai Mara, one of Africa's most popular attractions.
An all-inclusive package starting from Dh5,675 is for four nights, which includes one night in Aberdare, one in lake Nakuru and two nights in Masai Mara.
TODAY'S SARABAND SELECTIONS FFOS LAS: 6.25 Taste The Wine, 6.55 Masai King, 7.25 Tallulah Mai, 7.55 Polar Auroras, 8.25 Henry Allingham, 8.55 Prodigality, 9.25 The Jailer.
A few months ago, I was privileged to travel to Kenya and spend several magical days with the Masai tribe, a group of traditional natives, who, like many other cultures, are struggling to maintain ancient traditions and beliefs in a world that is being dominated by western culture.