Kenya's Maasai warriors now compete in athletics, not lion hunting

SIDAI OLENG WILDLIFE SANCTUARY, Kenya - At the foot of snow-capped Mount Kilimanjaro, Kenya's famed Maasai warriors competed for honour and prestige, not by hunting lions but by running, jumping and throwing.

The Maasai Olympics were created to encourage athletic competitions to replace the traditional lion-hunting as the way that young men can earn status in their society. Young Maasai men and women competed for prizes that included medals, cash, student scholarships, a prize bull and trips to participate in the New York marathon.

Famed Maasai runner David Rudisha, world record holder in the 800 metres and 2012 Olympic gold medal winner, attended the third annual Maasai games Saturday.

"I am patron of the Masaai Olympics to demonstrate the killing lions is no longer the way," said Rudisha before the competition. "We Maasai have a future as great runners. We must run — not kill the king of beasts — to earn our manhood and to win our brides in future."

The events of the Maasai games were based on traditional skills: three running events of 200 metres, 800 metres and 5,000 metres; throwing a spear (javelin) for distance; throwing a club for accuracy; and the high jump, not in Olympic fashion but in Maasai warrior-style, a vertical jump from a standing position.

Young Masaai women also competed in 100 metre and 1,500 metre races.

The new Maasai competition was created to help conserve Kenya's lion population — which has declined from 250,000 40 years ago to 35,000 today.

"Lion killing is finished," said Kimani Oltalesoi, spiritual leader of the Masaai, in a documentary. "We must protect our wildlife like we do our livestock. If we don't our way of life will be destroyed."


Follow AP photographers and photo editors on Twitter: —

© Copyright 2015

Sign up for the Times Colonist newsletter

Most Popular


    The Times Colonist is looking for newspaper carriers to work in the Reader Sales and Service Department.

Find out what's happening in your community.