It was a decidedly unexpected visual from a Downton Abbey-esque sport. During the September 2013 Last Man Stands World Championships, an amateur cricket tournament held this year in England, the competition included an exceptionally colorful team—the Masaai Cricket Warriors. Eschewing the “whites” customary to the game, the team opted to follow its own tradition: wearing bright red shukas wrapped around the waist and draping their bare, muscular frames with decorative necklaces, bracelets and beads.
What looks like sartorial anarchy in the western world, however, is actually an earnest expression of the Cricket Warriors’ priorities. In their native Kenya, team members address topics that are sensitive for the Maasai people. They speak out for AIDS prevention, and against early marriage and female genital mutilation (still a common practice in the tribe).
According to The Nation, “keeping the traditional dress is a way of showing that the team members are true Maasais while still working to move their society forward.” As captain Sonyanga Ole Ngais told the publication, “We want to show people that we are trying to battle some of the retrogressive issues in our culture. But the good part of the culture,” he said, pointing to his necklaces, “it’s there all the time.”
The Masaai Cricket Warriors website provides an excellent overview of the team’s history and cultural initiatives.
You’re right, this story is a natural for the big screen. Filmmaker Barney Douglas is currently working on a documentary, Warriors.
Travel alert: You too can be a Masaai warrior! Bush adventures offers the opportunity to train with these fierce defenders of the tribe; but for those who, like me, are happy to just learn more, the warriors describe their cultural rituals and responsibilities here.