In an effort to change the Maasai tradition of becoming a warrior by killing a lion, a group of Maasai elders in Amboseli-Tsavo ecosystem have created an athletic competition which will substitute for lion killing as entry into manhood for young Maasai men.
With snow-capped Mt. Kilimanjaro as a majestic backdrop, the 2nd biennial Maasai Olympics is held on a balmy December day in a field between Amboseli and Tsavo National Parks, Kajiado, Kenya.
Many from the local area, as well as those who are supporters of the distant morans arrive long before the events begin.
Each of the 4 manyattas (villages) competing in these final events has a colorful, enthusiastic cheering section composed of women from the manyatta: mothers, sisters, girlfriends, wives of the warrior athletes.
Morans from the 4 competing manyattas who were victorious in earlier local and regional competitions arrive via large open-air trucks.
After unloading, the young contestants gather their long staffs, form lines, and begin their deep, breathy chanting, their bodies moving rhythmically up and down as they march single file toward the athletic fields.
All athletic events are held within the Kimana/Sidal Oleng Wildlife Sanctuary. Shortly before most of the guests and contestants arrive, a herd of breeding elephants moves across a distant field but are out of sight before the contests begin.
The women chime in with traditional chants that mimic the warriors’ sounds as they join the spontaneous processions following the athletes to the staging area.
There is a carnival feeling: the scene is electric and engages all our senses as we struggle to take it all in.
Many of the Kenyans in attendance are notable contributors to African conservation and the preservation of indigenous cultures.
The athletic fields are marked with ash, which distinguishes the various lanes for the runners and distances for the javelin and rundu events.
If such events can ever be described as ‘intimate’, these certainly are. Spectators are allowed to stand amazingly close to the athletes during the competitions; photographers take full advantage of the freedom allowed them.
GoPros are strategically placed to capture the action of the contestant as he approaches the foul line in one of the events.
Accuracy is the goal at the rundu (wooden club) toss: the rundu must land in the large net placed a designated distance from the athlete.
Young and old in the Maasai communities participating in these games have enthusiastically embraced the concept of substituting athletic competitions, which incorporate traditional skills used in the hunt, for slaying lions as a passage into warriorhood.
While the majority of the spectators at the Olympics are locals, also in attendance are several international photographers (left, Derek Joubert - behind the camera) and conservationists (right, David Coulson - with camera around neck).
String stretched between 2 posts measures the height of high jumps.
As a result of this sports competition being so successful, lion killing has virtually stopped in the areas of the participating manyattas: only 1 lion was slain in all of 2013 there and the guilty manyatta was forced to pay a hefty fine.
National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence and world-renowned wildlife videographer Derek Joubert (left) is officially recognized by one of the organizers of the event.
David Rudisha, Patron of the Maasai Olympics and himself a Maasai warrior, presents medals to 3 top winners.
An unexpected isolated rain shower at the end of the events seems only to heighten the enthusiasm and excitement of all in attendance.