Date of Award

August 2013

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science



First Advisor

Cheryl Ajirotutu

Committee Members

Abera Gelan, Erica Bornstein


21st Century, Globalization, Identity, Maasai, Modernization, Tanzania


The Maasai people of East Africa have managed to retain much of their culture and traditions in the face of colonialism and increasing internal and external pressures. The Maasai have been viewed by many as the iconic, traditional representation of Africa. This representation affects perceptions and ideas about what it means to be Maasai. However, a person or group's identity is not a static, singular phenomenon, but composed of multiple identities and layers which are constantly changing.

In today's world, the Maasai are faced with changes and challenges from processes such as globalization and modernity. As the world becomes more globalized and interconnected, the pastoralist lifestyle is becoming more difficult to maintain. In a culture like the Maasai where the cow and pastoralism plays a central role, what will happen to this culture when pastoralism is no longer a viable way of life? What happens when the continuity of the past lifestyle and culture is uncoupled? In the 21st century changes are occurring that are affecting the Maasai. These changes are multi-tiered occurring locally, nationally and globally. At each level there are stakeholders who participate in informing the scope of change with all of its challenges, consequences and transformation due in part to the influence globalization and modernity.

This research seeks to understand the significance of identity in social change, especially in the face of globalization and modernity. How do these changes and transformations influence what it means to be Maasai from the etic and emic points of view, emphasizing the ways in which the Maasai are active participants in social change and the resulting transformations. This research makes use of three aspects of Maasai identity to illustrate the implications of social change on the: "the culture of the cow", clothing, and rites of passage. Each of these aforementioned areas reflects the complex and dynamic processes at work when considering what it means to be Maasai in the 21st century. The research also addresses questions of change and its effect on the sectors within the Maasai population. They are faced with negotiating their identity and what it means to be Maasai in the 21st century.

Keywords: Identity, Globalization, Modernity, Representation, Maasai, Tanzania, 21st Century