I have to kill a lion to marry BreAnn?!

Posted on January 22nd, 2014 by James

Well, not exactly…but it sure would help if we were getting married in Kenya in the Maasai culture!  Before I get into the specifics of how many cows I need to give BreAnn’s father in order to ask for her hand in marriage, let me backtrack for a moment…

On January 10th, BreAnn and I flew from Seoul, South Korea to Nairobi, Kenya with our normal amount of backpacking gear.  However, we also arrived with two big bags of school supplies and toys thanks to our friends and family. Sandy Mueller (BreAnn’s mom) and our friend, T.J. Rinaldi, gave us school supplies, and between money sent by Jana Racine and some of our own money, we bought additional supplies and toys before we left the U.S.  Through a great website, http://www.packforapurpose.org, we were connected with a number of organizations in the Nairobi area who help to fill a great need for school supplies in Kenya. They made it incredibly easy for us to donate: we simply took the toys/supplies as extra carry-on baggage on our flights and a representative met us at the airport when we arrived in Nairobi.  We gave half of the supplies to an organization called “The Joy House” and took the other half to our volunteer assignment through “KVCDP, Kenya Voluntary & Community Development Project.”  We plan to write a separate blog post about our volunteer teaching experience in Kenya, but for now, here is a photo of some of the children that we taught and who received the toys/supplies:


After spending hours on these horribly rocky roads, we are now appreciative of yet another thing in the U.S.: paved roads!

After we dropped off half of the supplies, a van from our volunteer organization picked us up and drove us six hours outside of Nairobi (three and a half hours on paved roads and two and a half on “roads” with potholes the size of our van).  Honestly, the best roller coaster in Kenya has to be that 50 mile stretch of road!  After our twenty-nine hour travel day, we finally arrived at our campsite which was only a few hundred feet from both a Maasai village and the local elementary school.  After trying to fight a seven hour time change for the second time in four days (U.S. to South Korea to Kenya), we weren’t really excited about camping, but were pleasantly surprised by our accommodations at Enchoro

Our nice little tent “home” for one week!

Wildlife Camp!  Our tent came equipped with comfy beds, mosquito nets, and indoor plumbing (sink, toilet, and a shower with hot water!).  After a day of relaxation on our porch watching the cows, goats, baboons, and monkeys that roamed the campsite [see a video of the monkeys here], it was time to immerse ourselves in the local culture.

On Sunday, we visited the village of the Masaai tribe near our camp.  For those of you that don’t know, the Maasai can be described as pastoral cattle herders who have maintained their customs and traditions for hundreds of years (similar to how the Amish have maintained their traditions over time in the United States).  Each tribe has different customs, but this particular tribe moves to a new location every nine years.  Why, you ask?  Well, each house is made of two natural

Maasai houses: made completely of tree branches and cow dung.

materials that degrade over time.  What are the two materials they use?  The frame of the house is constructed by tree branches and is held together by cow dung.  That’s right, ladies and gentlemen, their houses are made entirely from trees and dried poop.  The reason they move every nine years is because termites become prevalent at year nine.  I know your next question: you didn’t go in one of these houses, did you? Answer: hell yes, we did!  We couldn’t resist.  The house itself was about 15 feet by 15 feet and housed a minimum of seven family members while making space for the baby goats and a “guest room” for other visiting tribes from Tanzania.  The words and pictures in this blog

Children in the village were constantly covered in flies.

can only express about 5-10% of how stunned we were by this experience.  As you can imagine, the amount of flies in this village were overwhelming and they swarmed the smaller animals and children.

After our initial culture shock has subsided, we had time to learn about their customs from one of the more prominent tribesmen whose name was Jonathan (which, ironically, is the same name as my younger brother).  As a male, Jonathan was required to leave the village when he was sixteen years old to live in the African bush with 20-30 other men.  They were taught to survive in the wilderness without shelter for FOUR YEARS.

Jonathan, standing in his gear.

At the end of this four year period, each tribesman in the group hunted a lion using only a spear.  (Traditionally, this was done individually, but it is now done as a group to help preserve the declining species of lions in Kenya).  The tribesman in the group whose spear killed the lion is honored by wearing the skin of the lion and leading the group back to the village after the four year period.  Jonathan was the tribesman in his group that killed the lion and he allowed me to try his hat on as if I had killed the lion myself. What an honor!

Wearing Jonathan’s lion skin hat.

First, he taught us how to make fire from two pieces of wood (which he made in less than two minutes).  He let me try and I did pretty well… except for when the stick slipped and I burned the hand of one of the elders!  He said it was fine because that is how they give each other tattoos! [Click here to see a video of this funny experience!].

Next, he showed us the local plants that the Maasai tribe members use as medicinal purposes (for treating wounds, repelling mosquitoes, settling your stomach) and ones used for poison (which cover the tip of their arrows).  He also showed me the best plant for toilet paper:

Participating in a Maasai dance ceremony

Lastly, I participated in a dance ceremony related to a courtship ritual [see video here].  We learned a lot about wedding rituals for this particular Maasai tribe.  First of all, a man’s first marriage is an arranged marriage by his parents.  The man can then choose as many additional wives AND children as he can provide for (food, shelter, etc.).  It is mandatory to marry outside of your tribe to avoid inbreeding, and it is customary to pay a dowry of 40 cows to the parents (or in some cases, the brother) of the bride.  There are exceptions to the rule, of course.  If you killed a lion during your time in the bush as a teenager, then you get a discount of 10 cows.  In addition, if you can jump higher than the men in the tribe of the bride, then you get a discount of 10 cows.  Apparently, I won the jumping contest when they were showing me how to dance, but I suspect they were just being niceFurthermore, every additional wife that a man takes (yep, they’re polygamists) is negotiated by the quality of the woman and typically begins at a rate of 10 cows.  Oh yea, and the first wife is responsible for building the entire family home (a.k.a., “The Chateau de Poop”).

So… if BreAnn and I were to get married this year, my conversation with her would go something like this:

“Hi BreAnn, our fathers have agreed that you and I are to be married.  He asked me to give him 40 cows, but because I killed a lion and can jump higher than your high school friends, I am only going to give him 20 cows.  If you could start gathering poop to build our house, that would be swell.  Oh, and by the way, I totally understand what you are going through.  It must be hard for you since the man you are going to marry was chosen for you, but don’t worry… you will have plenty of new friends since I plan to marry at least 2-3 more wives…”

For the record, I think that if I actually said that to BreAnn, then killing a lion would be the least of my worries.


To see a video summary (with many small video clips) of our day, visiting the Maasai tribe, click here.

To see photos from our visit in Maasai Mara, Kenya, click here.

To see ALL of our videos from Maasai Mara, Kenya, click here.


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3 responses to “I have to kill a lion to marry BreAnn?!”

  1. Ann says:

    Wow! Very interesting post! Crazy that they use cow dung, no wonder there’s so many flies. Poor kiddos, though 🙁

  2. Ann says:

    P.S. That would be quite the marriage proposal! How could Bre turn that down 😉 And the dance on top of it!!

  3. Val says:

    I read all your posts and I’m always waiting, in breathless anticipation, for the next, but I especially enjoy when James writes – what a story teller!

    Also, it’s great that you two are still planning to get married after the adventures, and everything they’ve entailed, over the last year…. That’s going to be a solid marriage.

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