EVANSTON, Illinois — In rural Tanzania, a new group of influencers calling themselves the “Maasaiboys” are trying to make it big for a cause. Their mission: create prosperity for future generations of Maasai by sharing their culture with the outside world. Started by Kanaya Kolong along with his friends and family, all of whom are members of the Maasai tribe, the Maasaiboys now boasts over 12,000 followers on Instagram, over 5,000 subscribers on YouTube and have received nearly 40,000 likes on TikTok and the boys have no plans of slowing down.
Struggles in Tanzania and the Maasai Community
Life for the Maasai people has not been easy in recent years. From COVID-19 struggles to conflict with the Tanzanian government over land usage, the Maasai community has needed to adapt to new challenges.
To get a better understanding of the issues facing the Maasai people, as well as how the Maasaiboys wish to help, The Borgen Project spoke with Kolong.
Though the Maasai people can be found in both Kenya and Tanzania, the Maasaiboys come from a village in Tanzania. Similar to numerous other countries, Tanzania has struggled in recent years with pandemic-related issues and fighting poverty effectively. However, the Maasai people have faced unique challenges due to their position within the country and special economy.
Tanzania is a country in East Africa with 62 million people living within its borders, making it the 24th largest country in the world. Within the country, there are over 120 different ethnic groups contributing over 100 dialects. Major economic activities include the service industry, construction and agriculture.
Poverty is a major problem throughout Tanzania. According to the World Bank’s 2021 report, over 26% of Tanzanians were living in poverty as of 2019. In recent years, the Tanzania government has struggled to combat it. The World Bank’s report also noted that Tanzania’s poverty reduction dropped and economic growth has failed to benefit the poor during the period from 2011 to 2017.
The Maasai are an ethnic group living in rural Tanzania and Kenya. In Tanzania, the government estimates that there are around 430,000 Maasai living in its borders, though there are over a million members worldwide. They maintain an economy famously based on the herding of cows, but they have also become more prominent in Tanzania’s tourism industry.
COVID-19 and droughts have put pressure on the Maasai people’s ability to sustain themselves. According to Kolong, his village was hit hard when many of their cows, a point of pride for his people, died during the droughts. “That [was]a big pain for us also mentally,” said Kolong. He noted that the tribe’s lack of resources and access to modern amenities, such as education and electricity, have contributed to his village’s struggles to adapt.
Kolong also spoke of his frustrations with the government’s effort to evict and move the Maasai people. Recently, the Tanzania government has been trying to remove Maasai people off of their traditional land to make room for safari parks, leading to violent clashes.
Who are the Maasaiboys?
According to Kolong, the Maasaiboys group spawned from the desire to do good while making money. “We saw a lot of people make big money on the internet but also putting bad influence on people, so we thought let’s try and do it better than them,” Kolong said. Now, the Maasaiboys can be found on most online platforms and have thousands of fans.
Their focus is on creating digital content centered around Maasai culture and their lifestyle, as well as comedy. They share videos and photos online of everything from trips to local markets to showcases of their village’s handmade wooden bikes.
Another facet of their content is exploring other cultures. In a recent video, the Maasaiboys reacted to pizza, which they claimed they were trying for the first time. That video garnered over 100,000 views on YouTube.
In the future, Kolong discussed the possibility of expanding by selling goods made within the village internationally. “We also are looking to sell our handmade traditional jewelry online one day and clothing,” Kolong said.
However, things haven’t always been easy for the Maasaiboys themselves. They have had to deal with everything from a lack of electricity to scammers to larger social media pages stealing their content without giving them credit. “We have had a lot of bad luck,” Kolong summarized.
To combat their issues, the Maasaiboys have turned to crowdfunding. The group maintains an active fundraising campaign on the website GoFundMe. Per their campaign, the group hopes to use the money raised to “invest in solar power, better wi-fi devices, cameras and a laptop.” As of October 2022, the Maasaiboys have raised more than $1,800.
The Hope of the Maasaiboys
The Maasaiboys have big goals for the future of their group and village. These goals include driving businesses to support the Maasai community, developing a nonprofit organization to aid the Maasai people, improving their education systems and increasing access to electricity. “We have to…modernize the right way,” said Kolong.
According to Kolong, he also wants to create employment opportunities for his fellow villagers within the Maasaiboys. Due to the fragility seen in the Maasai’s cow economy, regular employment would provide stability and allow villagers to remain in their community.
So far, the Maasaiboys have not accomplished many of these goals due to a lack of funds, but Kolong said that they have begun laying the groundwork for them. Already, he said, his people have begun a new school and are teaching the next generation of Maasai.
Ultimately, the Maasaiboys see power in nurturing their community in the face of its modernization. They plan to use this power to create a system of self-sufficiency and success for the Maasai people to enjoy across generations.
“More and more Maasai are coming to social media so it will not be a small part, for us of course it will play a bigger role with our plans,” Kolong said.
– Ryan Morton