Masai – the Lost Tribe of Israel

Masai warriors engage in their traditional dance competition

Masai warriors engage in their traditional dance competition

Masai Warriors – “God’s Chosen People”

This is a Jewish story of Africa that I found in the most unlikely of places: the vast plains of Masai Mara and Serengeti reserves. As we drove there, we saw the light-skinned, tall, slender people dressed in red, who were as ubiquitous to the landscape as sky above and earth below. Surrounded by their herd of cattle, they leaned on their long spears or stood on one leg in a stork-like pose. Bearing remarkable similarities to ancient Romans from North Africa, most had classical profiles, wore red togas and sandals, and were equipped with Roman-style short stabbing swords. Women had shaved heads, while the young men’s hair was plated and stuck together with red clay. To us, they looked like young mythical gods. These are the proud Masai (sometimes referred to as Maasai) people of East Africa, whose mysterious past is enveloped in legends of being one of the lost tribes of Israel.

When the Europeans brought the railroad to Nairobi, the Masai were the only human inhabitants there, coming and going as they pleased with their cattle. Nomadic and highly suspicious to any strangers passing through their land, the Masai were never fond of the Europeans. In 1904, M. Merker, a German official-turned scientist stationed in Tanganyika learned the Maa language of the Masai, earned their trust (or thought he did), and collected the legends the Masai cared to share. In these legends of origin, the Masai, according to Merker, maintained that their ancestors were slaves in the land of the Nile and escaped through a parted sea, pursued by a vicious ruler. Long before arrival of missionaries, Merker stated, the Masai knew the tales of Adam and Eve, and of Noah and the Great Flood, though under different names.

“I regard the Masai as being descended from the nomadic Semites to whom the oldest Hebrew pastoralist belong,” pronounced Merker in his study. Lord Churchill called Merker’s Dei Masai “the most truly inspired investigation that ever an African people has had.”  Merker’s study was well-known to the British Colonial Secretary Sir Joseph Chamberlain, who in the early 1900s suggested to Theodore Herzl, the leader of the Zionist movement, that parts of “Masailand” could be handed over to persecuted Eastern European Jews.  In the following hundred years, most researchers concluded that Masai have Nilotic (from the river Nile) rather than Semitic origins, but Merker’s theory of Masai as “one the lost ten tribes of Israel” stubbornly continues to float in popular imagination.

We arranged to go to a Masai village to meet them. They greeted us with singing and dancing, dressed in their best. Unlike other African tribes, the Masai refuse to modernize; they will not drive cars or wear western clothes. A couple of young men spoke enough English to communicate with us.  When asked about their beliefs, they explained that the Masai believe in one God who they call Engai. Engai, they say, has two faces: the first face is a black color, kind and benevolent, bringing thunder and rain, grass for the cattle, and good life for the Masai; the second face is red and fearsome, bringing lighting and drought, famine and death. Engai made the Masai his chosen people and gave them the land of Africa.

The word “Masai” is synonymous with “cattle,” these young people said. They translated a traditional greeting: “How are your wives and children and how is your cattle?” To own one without the other means being poor; to have an abundance of both is to be rich. Cattle do not just give meaning to Masai life, they are life.

As we went around the village, we were told of the traditions curiously resembling those of the Jews: Masai would never eat meat the same day they drank milk; they consider that to be highly unhealthy to both people and cattle whose milk was drank. More important is their firm belief that the milk of the living animal should not be drunk in the village at the same time as the meat of the same animal is eaten.

The Masai do not have chiefs. Instead, their lives are governed by the collective of elders chosen for their wisdom and moral qualities. Their assembly is called Sanhedrin and the round hut where they get together is called a Tabernacle. When a highly respected elder dies, he is buried in the ground facing east. Every passer-by places a stone on the grave as a sign of respect, and after a while a small hill appears on the landscape.

All the Masai wear bright jewelry with colors symbolizing the Masai universe: red stands for blood of a slaughtered animal; white means milk that sustains the Masai; orange stands for milk mixed with blood, a drink that the Masai like and believe to provide strength and nourishment; green is the grass that feeds their cattle; and the blue is the sky above the Masai land given by Engai to his chosen people.

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27 Responses to Masai – the Lost Tribe of Israel

  1. peres parpai says:

    Some might be the remnants of the north African Hebrew people, being Jewish you must keep the Mitzvahs, The Torah absolutely forbidden the drinking of Blood . Otherwise, if it was due to contacts of the Nilotic people that led them to drinking blood, or is part of being lost? Am not so sure, am Jewish and grew up within the Maasai community, when very young my father and mother warned us strictly, of coming close to meat eaten by Maasai as un kashrut, we had a special, slaughter man, who make sure that the blood is drained, and the meat further socked in a warm salted water for 20mins, and dry it for 20, mins, then apply salt, on big table again for 20 mins to make sure that, no a drop of blood remained.

  2. KIROKET OLE NCHOE says:

    Good research thank you for this information ……correction we call our God ‘enkai’

  3. If you try to look at their day to day life activities, a lot of what they do is so similar to what is the bible yet the bible came to Maasai land a few year back.

    The story of Isaac, Jacob & Esau is the same as the Maasai Mbatiany’s sons, olonana and Senteu.

  4. Jonathan Kulei says:

    1 chronicles 9:12 is talking of the genealogy of the children of Israel. Masaai son of Adiel in the lineage of Levi is shown here. Also to my thinking some few Masaai words are borrowed from the bible. For instance “oi pasinai”( still remembering Mt. Sinai), “eyewau mana”( something you cannot tell where it is coming from just like the bible mana), the story of Olarinkoi ( David vs Goliath) just to mention a few.

  5. lepantas charles leshore says:

    The history of the masai is little known and understood, meaning there is need to more studies , that need consolidation to some strong conclusions. I believe the masai have lot of relationships in the bible and need to investigate more. They day to day activities, belifes, taboos have similarities to the bible.
    Cograts for the findings.

  6. Chris says:

    There are some who say the lost ten tribes are the Ethiopians, possibly the Masai, some say the North American Indians, etc. In truth half a dozen nations around the world can trace at least a portion of their ancestry to the lost ten tribes of Israel. Some small amounts also returned to Jerusalem centuries ago. I agree with all this, but the most convincing evidence (in my mere opinion) is that they are the Northern Europeans (i.e. NOT most of Greece and NOT most of Italy). I believe worldwide, the highest concentrations of Israelite blood to be in these Northern Europeans – close to 100%. Here is just some of the massive amounts of evidence: https://losttentribesfound.wordpress.com/

  7. Nchoe J.P says:

    Here are similarities between the maasai and the jews.

    Maasai do not eat meat on the day they have eaten milk or dairy products.

    Maasai have legends similar to the stories of Samson and Delilah, Isaac and Jacob, David and Goliah.
    Maasai worship one diety or God called Enkai. They worshiped him directly and also though sacrifices.
    Maasai do not eat meat with blood. They always pour/drain the blood from the animal. Blood drinking was not original part of their culture
    Maasai have male circumsion as part of their culture.
    Their physical body structure resemble those of the jews. Their worriors were known for their bravery!

    Could the maasi tribe be one of the 10 LOST tribes of Israel /

  8. shmuel ilan says:

    am doing my own independent study on maasai speaking to them and using my past history and also practising judaism which i feel much at home with. i do all the israeli festivals and three times prayers a day. the small study that am growing from a putrid drop to something is bearing fruits and indication indicate that we left israel first after the end of king shlomo reign when Ehyehowah cause yerov’am and king rechav’am to split the 10 tribes from the two. we do not need permission from anyone or a D.N.A approval to be israeli. i do not claim that maasai are y’hudah but we are all israelis. the current situation of the maasai should be considered not the past. we are returning to our roots. how i got a hebrew name ilan from my parents excites me. shalom

  9. Lekope Oleng'ues says:

    I’m wondering on one point why should food seen as a point to qualify as Israelites. (whats blood) It does not make sense to me knowing quite well about our planet geographical, I just know we are Jews that’s all. There are so many clan of Maasai mention one Baringo this group typically depend on fishing while to other like us Elparakuiyo that’s not a food (shame), before today times that all people of the world are forced to live like European and whatever we believe or play as culture is called indigenous or primitive or backward since is not same with European culture. I just know I believe in Abraham, Mountain Sinai, poponia (heaven) and so men powers my men carrying like Musa

  10. Ole Lenkuuru says:

    truly the masaai tribe is among the twelve tribes of israel in the line of LEVI son of JACOB,but they rejected Gods Laws and thats why they are suffering in the wilderness,but steel God is calling them ‘”my People, my holy Nation”.Deut.14;2

  11. joe says:

    Maasi the son of Adiel.
    This is enough evidence that the maasai come from israel

  12. David Lengidong says:

    If the Maasai are originated from Israel, and we believe ”yes they are lost tribe from Israel” how then they became in different clans? For instance Erparakuyo, Kisongo, Loitai,Ilaitayok,Irwasi-ngishu Irkeek oonyokio, Eldamat le kutuk, Loodo kilani, illarusa etc.

  13. maasai people are isralites because all those things the bible speaks in the book of deutronomy applies to the believes of the maasai,eg incest is realy forbiden and the penalties for theft and adultry is exactly the same

  14. Yes, maasai are one of lost Trible of israel…..don’t need high Education to know that….but passing by Bible! And you will get a much as you Reasons why we claim hat we are a Israel…and we promised are land of Israel by our living GOD!

  15. The maasai a lost tribe of israel? i don’t think so
    All peaple who live around the world always have similarities between

  16. Nyika says:

    According to Bible, Maasai are part of the Israel tribe.

  17. Lucas Moreto says:

    Sure we maasai are among ten tribe lost from Israel and this according to chronicle 9:12. “We are the son of adiel” to me Jewish are mostly likely maasai

  18. Rev Hannington Ole Koikai says:

    Thank you for the good piece of work. First a point of correction, it is EnkAi and sometimes Enkai and not engai, when receiving blessinga the Maasai say Ai, since Enkai is feminine. The Maasai history can be traced back from Ethiopia which a Maasai name meaning Chocolate pronounced Esopia and to Sudan which is called Sidan meaning Ostriches, and much more.. You need to do more to prove your finding.

  19. Salau Rogei says:

    Most Maasai men go to the meat camps every August, and in one of these camps I obseved that the hip borne is always thrown away. I asked one of the elders and hecsimply said ‘ because we are prohibited from eating it’. The I remembered Jacobs’ story when he restled with God.

  20. Dr. Nchorira Naikuni says:

    i am in deep research to build on the existing literature about the maasai people…… in one of my upcoming book “maasai cultural universe” i have tried to give a clear understanding of who the maasai are and six pillars of the maasai culture. The original maa speakers should add more knowledge on these document…..bravo to the author of the article. Read more on book by David ole Munke

  21. True it is Gods People. They are mentioned in the Bible.

  22. Stephen loisa says:

    The chosen people.the people with peculiar culture which admired by the whole world.

  23. May be that is why we are know us the Kenyan/Tanzania Israelite’s

  24. We are Kenyans Israelite’s

  25. It’s true that the maasai people are israelites they bare some names like lamech [lemek]

  26. Oltetia Ole Sapai says:

    First Chronicles Chapter 9 verse 12 is no doubt a clear manifestation that the Maasai originated from Israel and is fool proof that we are the descendants of the Israelites.
    A closer scrutiny of the Old Testament particularly the book of Leviticus and Deuteronomy shows similarities of dos and don’ts in cultural practices.
    The centuries of migration gave way to intermittent integration resulting in the corruption of traditional practices that is concurrently obtain.
    I suggest more deep research is needed on a wide scale.
    Can we(contributors) seek ways and means of getting together for this purpose?

  27. Noah Moinkett says:

    We are the chosen generation

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