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Chapter 3: the Maasai: Socio-historical context and group ranches

B E Grandin

3.1 Maasai social structure
3.2 Kajiado District: An historical overview of land use and policy
3.3 The socio economic impact of group ranches in Kajiado Maasailand
3.4 A summary of major changes in the last 20 years

The Maasai are the second biggest group of pastoralists in Kenya, after the Somalis, numbering some 360000 out of a total pastoralist population of some 1.4 million.

This chapter focuses on the socio-historical context of livestock production in Kajiado Maasailand. It first describes the social organisation of the Maasai, particularly their socio-spatial organisation and territorial control. The focus then shifts to external influences on Maasai. livestock production strategies. There is a brief review of changes in range/livestock policies and land use since the turn of the century, which culminated in a land-tenure reform programme which transformed communal trust land into group and individual ranches. A brief history of group ranches is provided, including a comparison between the original concept of how group ranches should operate and how they have come to operate. This is followed by a brief review of the impact of the early group ranches on various technical and social features of Maasai livestock production.

3.1 Maasai social structure

3.1.1 Introduction
3.1.2 Socio-spatial integration
3.1.3 Cross-linkages
3.1.4 Summary

3.1.1 Introduction

This section provides an outline of Maasai social structure as a basis for understanding the extent to which social relations have formed and still shape the Maasai's framework of production.

3.1.2 Socio-spatial integration

Maasai socio-spatial organisation is composed of five basic units: household, boma, neighbourhood/locality, section and Maasai society. Their main characteristics are outlined in Table 3.1.

The household was the primary unit of production. The nuclear family of husband, wives and unmarried children was often extended to include married sons and their wives, the husband's mother (and his siblings if their father is dead) and impoverished dependants1.

1 The word for dependent (napita) implies someone who has no animals or so few that they cannot support themselves. Although a man may support his mother and her children, they are not, strictly speaking, dependants, as the man's animals were once his mothers. True dependants are often members of households that have lost all their animals, commonly through alcoholism.

Until recently, Maasai households lived together in large compounds or bomas (enkang) of 6 to 12 households (Jacobs, 1965; Njoka, 1979). Over the last 20 years, however, the average size of the boma has declined markedly and the single family boma has become increasingly common as the Maasai became increasingly sedentary and moved towards individualisation of production.

Bomas were grouped into larger units, or neighbourhoods, which controlled such local resources as grazing and watering facilities. A neighbourhood was a cluster of bomas, usually within a kilometre of each other. The term elatia refers to a group of neighbours2. Each neighbourhood was usually centred around a permanent water point and, although membership varied over time, had a core of people who resided there permanently.

2 This differs from the situation described by Jacobs (1965) in his work on the Kisongo Maasai in Tanzania, where the term elatia was used for the residents of the same boma, and no neighbourhood level existed. It is interesting that his boma population is close to the neighbourhood population in the present study.

Neighbourhoods were, in turn, grouped in "localities"3 which controlled enough wet- and dry-season grazing and water resources to support their population in normal times (Jacobs, 1965).

3 The locality is called enkutoto in some oloshon. The enkutoto was recommended by some researchers (e.g. Fallon (1962), quoted in Hedlund (1971)) as the logical basis for group ranch development. According to Hedlund (1971), in Kaputiei the word enkutoto does not mean locality but refers to an area of fairly permanent settlement or a small area named for its ecological characteristics. He enumerated 21 enkutotos in a single group ranch.

Table 3.1. Maasai socio-spatial organisation (a schema).


Household (olmarei1)

Locus of cattle ownership

Autonomous decision-making unit

Highly mobile

Flexible; may split seasonally

Viability (people/animal balance)

Divided into subhouseholds called houses (nkaji) of each wife/children

Boma (enkang) - joint residential unit

Joint unit for herding/watering and other livestock management

Strong prescription for food sharing

Domestic self-help unit

Neighbourhood/locality (elatia/enkutoto)

Broader cooperation/information exchange, sociability

Share/control of local grazing and water resources

Often core nucleus population with regular influx/outflow of others

Section (oloshon) - largest grazing unit

Large to allow for resource fluctuations

Theoretically free access to all members

Largest unit of traditional administration/apex of age-set system

May be divided into subsections


Maasai-society/ethnic group

Ideological unit

Shared language and culture

Limited access throughout in times of severe stress

1 There is no single word in Maa which corresponds precisely to "household" although the expression "nkaji of so-and-so", literally "so-and-so's houses" is used. More often the word olmarei (family) is used but it is clear from the context that it is the household that is meant.

Each Maasai producer belonged to a locality, which he considered his home area or emparnat, where he belongs and has a right to live (whereas permission of residents is required for him to join another locality).

A Maasai is identified primarily with his oloshon or section. This is, in effect, a subtribe of the Maasai with a unified political and administrative structure4. Each section had a fixed territory that, before group ranches, belonged to section members collectively. The territory of each section was large enough to provide adequate grazing in normal and dry times, but not during extreme droughts. In Kajiado Maasailand current administrative boundaries follow closely earlier boundaries of the eight sections (Figure 3. 1; Table 3.2).

4 Jacobs (1965; 1975) prefers the word tribe as each oloshon was politically autonomous.

The Maasai as a whole form a distinctive social unit sharing a culture, language and social structure.

The freedom of movement of a producer and his household declined with increasing size of administrative unit: while it was easy for him to move from one boma to another, sectional boundaries were, and still are, difficult to cross, even in drought times. Even if allowed to cross into another section, he would remain there for as short a time as possible.

3.1.3 Cross-linkages

Relations based on proximity alone would lead to the segregation of people in localised areas. To offset this and to provide mechanisms for the wider mobility essential to livestock production, the Maasai have linkages which unite people within and even across sections. These cross-linkages are of two types: group-wide and individual (Table 3.3). Chapters 5 (The study area: Socio-spatial organisation and land use), 6 (Labour and livestock management) and 8 (Livestock transactions, food consumption and household budgets) examine in more detail the extent to which these relationships are used to establish co-residence, marshal labour, and determine offtake and acquisition of animals.

Group-wide ties

Group-wide ties of age-sets and clans form the most important framework for socio-political organisation. Through them every person has well-defined roles, responsibilities, rights and obligations in relation to every other person in society. They cross the ties of proximity resulting from joint residence, spanning subsection and even section boundaries.

Age sets

Traditionally the Maasai political organisation was based on a series of age-sets. As each boy was circumcised he was incorporated into a generational category or age-set. He and his cohorts passed through the stages of warrior (moran), junior elder, senior elder and retired elder, each stage lasting about 15 years. The senior elder age-set had the primary responsibility for the traditional administration in Maasailand. Junior elders carried out the instructions of the senior elders.

Figure 3.1. Map of Kajiado District showing administrative Divisions and Maasai Sections.

Table 3.2. Size and human population characteristics of Kajiado Maasai sections1.


Size (km)

Number of people

Number of households

Population density

Number of group ranches

























Dala le Kutuk


































1 Area estimates are from Jaetzold and Schmidt (1983). Population estimates are from the 1979 census. However population estimates are confounded in several locations by large urban non-Maasai populations, e.g. in Loitokitok. Ngong town has been excluded from Keekonyokie as its area is very small, while its mainly non-Maasai population is very large.

2 A refugee group from Narok District, where Purko predominate.

Table 3.3. Cross-cutting ties in Maasailand.

Group-wide ties

Clans/moities (orgilata) (groupings of clans into two major lines)

Age-sets (traditional/political)

Egocentric ties

Consanguineal kin, especially through the patriline


Stock associates

Although most of the political and administrative functions of age-sets have been taken over by the government, age-sets still provide an important structure for socio-political relations. A man's age-set status (e.g. junior elder, senior elder) continues to affect his political possibilities, although this is increasingly offset by level of education.

Clans (olgilata)

A clan is a group of people who recognise descent from the same (putative) ancestor. Maasai clans are patrilineal; a child belongs to the clan of his father and remains a member for life. Non-Maasai can be ritually incorporated into a clan.

Cattle of clan-mates have the same basic branding (with each producer adding his unique identifier). Clan-mates have very strong mutual aid obligations. For example, if a man dies young with no brothers, his clan-mates are required to help raise his children and tend his cattle. If a Maasai becomes impoverished through drought or other misfortune, his clan-mates are bound to come to his aid. Clan-mates provide help in marriage (with negotiations, obtaining the necessary bride-price etc.); they are a locus of settlement of disputes (including death fines). When a producer needs wide support to solve any problem he will appeal to his clanmates. Thus, the clan has an important role in the wider political system. Although women are excluded from the age-set system, they have full recourse to their own clan-mates when in difficulty.

There are five major clans and about 40 sub-clans in Kajiado District. The clans are grouped into two moieties (orok kiteng and odo mongi), each descended from one of the two wives of the first Maasai ancestor.

Egocentric ties

Every producer has his own egocentric network composed of:

· blood relatives, especially patrilineal kin (agnates) and, to a lesser extent, other blood relatives (cognates), especially those of his mother;

· affines, especially his wife's kin, and later, to a lesser extent, through the marriage of his daughters; and

· stock associates, a relationship established by the exchange of animals (this practice is often used to enhance an existing tie).

Full brothers have much greater reciprocal responsibilities than do half-brothers. Full brothers often remain together even after the death of their father. When a man diversifies out of purely pastoral production (e.g. by becoming a trader) his brother will usually help to look after his family and animals in his absence. A brother retains a responsibility for his sisters throughout his life. Sisters are always seen as belonging to his family; they can always return to his home if they are in trouble

Other agnatic relationships (father's brothers, their sons etc.) may be viewed as less intense versions of the brother relationship (as may clanmates). The nature of the relationship is affected by seniority: the more senior relative is an important source of social and economic support and advice to the junior relative, while the junior relative may be expected to provide help to the senior one.

As with clan-mates, agnates help each other in disputes, with marital negotiations and difficulties and generally in times of need. Agnates, particularly brothers, often give cattle to new wives on their wedding day. Gifts and loans of money are common among these relatives.

Unlike agnates, cognates are not of one's clan. Most important among cognates are close relatives of one's mother, particularly her brother. As a man remains responsible for his sister, he also feels some responsibility for her children, particularly her sons. The relationship between a man and his mother's brother or sister is close and affectionate. A young man will turn to his mother's brother where he might fear the response of his father or his father's brother. By extension, the mother's clan-mates are also seen as a source of affectionate non-judgmental support.

Affinal relationships are asymmetrical, with the family receiving the bride being beholden to the family giving the bride. Marriage is polygamous; it is viewed as a relationship between families as well as between the bride and groom. A man's first marriage is usually arranged by his father, who also provides the bride-wealth cattle (with the help of agnates and sometimes clan-mates). Marriages are usually between people from the same section but from different clans. Marriages outside the clan are usually within the moiety.

Sons-in-law are indebted to their fathers-in-law, and subsequently to their brothers-in-law. Affinal relationships are marked by much giving, primarily from the husband's family to the wife's. When in-laws visit from far away a man should slaughter a goat or sheep for them. There is much giving and lending of cash between in-laws.

The stock associate is of particular importance in Maasailand. Exchange of animals leads to lifelong commitment of friendship and assistance. Clan-mates and age-mates may become stock associates, thus strengthening an already existing tie and adding new dimensions of responsibility and obligation. Generally, through the gifting of animals, a Maasai gathers support and cements his social relationships. As animals, particularly cattle, are an important medium for maintaining relationships, the person with few animals is poor not only in subsistence terms but also socially.

3.1.4 Summary

This section outlined the general internal structure of Maasai society, covering both socio-spatial organisation and cross-linking relationships. Production is embedded in these social relationships. Social relations provide access to factors of production, a source of daily cooperation and long-term social security. They are the structure on which all production hinges.

3.2 Kajiado District: An historical overview of land use and policy

3.2.1 Human and livestock population trends
3.2.2 Historical influences on land use6
3.2.3 Origins of the group ranches

This historical overview of Kajiado District focuses on the evolution of current land-use practices and government policy and administration. It shows that the last hundred years have been marked by great turbulence caused both by natural and manmade events. The most important changes have been the loss of land and the loss of traditional mobility and flexibility.

Traditional flexibility involved both spatial mobility and variation in the primary means of subsistence. Although some scholars (Jacobs, 1975; Galaty, 1980) have stressed the dichotomy between Maa-speaking pastoralists and farmers, Bernsten (1979:109) has shown that "the relation between Maa-speaking pastoralists, farmers and hunters was not static, but dynamic; individuals moved between these three modes of subsistence according to their economic status at a given time." Bernsten shows that in the past 150 years, agricultural settlements in highland areas in Maasailand "have been abandoned, resettled and abandoned again, depending on the fortunes of the pastoralists who occupied the plains." The long-standing descriptions of pastoral Maasai as living solely by direct consumption of livestock products represents a stereotype which was probably achieved by most people only in good times.

3.2.1 Human and livestock population trends

Estimates of livestock populations are notoriously inaccurate; even human population figures are problematic for nomadic societies. This section presents broad trends in population change. The livestock figures represent compromises among the often conflicting estimates originating largely from government records and reported in: Great Britain (1934), Halderman (1972), Meadows and White (1979) and Campbell (1979a; 1981). For more recent data see Section 2.3.5: Herbivore population. The human population figures are based on census counts in 1948,1962,1969,1979 with a correction factor estimated for non-pastoralists.

Jacobs (1984a), in an analysis of population growth in the rangeland districts of Kenya between 1969 and 1979, calculated that the population of Kajiado District increased by 74% or 50% above the average increase for Kenya as a whole. However, only half this growth was due to an increase in the pastoral population, the remainder being accounted for by in-migration of mainly Kikuyu and Kamba from surrounding districts.

Between 1948 and 1984 the human pastoral population of Kajiado District increased steadily from about 29000 to 109000 people, while the cattle population fluctuated widely, particularly in response to droughts (Figure 3.2). This has led to a steady decline in the number of cattle per person in the pastoral population (Figure 3.3).

Data from the study area, as reported largely in Chapter 8 (Livestock transactions, food consumption and household budgets) and Chapter 9 (An economic analysis of Maasai livestock production), indicate that there must be at least 10 cattle for each person if the population is to subsist on a diet of milk and meat alone5. This was the usual case before the 1960-61 drought (Figure 3.3). After the drought of 1960-61 the number of cattle per person fell to about five and may have reached a low of three cattle per person during the 1983-84 drought.

5 Based on a reference daily adult requirement of 2300 kcal, an output of 1 litre of milk per lactating cow, with an energy value of 700 kcal (Nester, 1985), and about 20% of the total herd being cows in milk. In addition, each head of cattle is assumed to provide 50 kcal/day as meat. The required ratio is 12.1 head of cattle per reference adult or 9.7 per person. This agrees with Dahl and Hjort (1976), who estimated that a family of six needed 64 head of cattle.

Figure 3.2. Cattle and pastoral human populations in Kajiado District, 1948-84.

Figure 3.3. Cattle per person in Kajiado District, 1948-84.

This reduction in the number of cattle per person has led to the Maasai diversifying their production, particularly through a rapid increase in smallstock, engagement in wage labour and, to a lesser extent, cultivation and increasing consumption of purchased agricultural foodstuffs, financed mainly by selling livestock and, in some areas, milk.

3.2.2 Historical influences on land use6

6 This and Section 3.2.3 (Origins of the group ranches) rely heavily on the work of Campbell, particularly as reported in Campbell (1981). Other important secondary sources include Dahl (1979), Migot-Adholla and Little (1981), Ngutter (1981) and ole Pasha (1986).

In the mid-1800s East Africa had well-developed pastoral and intensive mixed farming systems, despite the activities of the slave trade (Kjekshus, 1977). However, these were disrupted by a series of events beginning in the 1880s. Ninety to 95% of the region's cattle were killed by a Rinderpest epidemic in the 1880s. This coincided with a period of drought, and led to widespread famine. There then followed a smallpox epidemic. Lastly the jigger (sand-flea) arrived in East Africa in the 1890s, further debilitating the population. Thus, early colonialists found East African society in a state of collapse and took this to be the traditional status quo (Kjekshus, 1977).

When the Europeans arrived the Maasai occupied an area of 155000 km2, stretching from Mt Elgon and the Loriyu Plateau in the north to Kibaya, in modern Tanzania, in the south. In 1904 the British formed two Maasai reserves (Figure 3.4). The northern reserve was eliminated in 1911 when the southern reserve was expanded. By 1913 the area of land occupied by the Maasai had been reduced to 40000 km2. This remaining "reserve" is roughly congruent with present-day Narok and Kajiado districts.

Other tribes also lost land to European settlers. Starting in 1913 farmers, particularly Kikuyu, moved into Maasailand and started cropping in higher potential areas, including those on the slopes of the Ngong Hills, the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro and of Ol Doinyo Orok near Namanga, and Nguruman on the western wall of the Rift Valley. Although the area of land involved was small, it was very important because it was land that provided critical dry-season grazing. These migrations continued into the 1950s.

Under the National Parks Ordinance of 1945 the Kajiado Maasai lost access to two areas bordering the District: Nairobi National Park and Tsavo National Park. This Ordinance also established a game reserve in Amboseli (3248 km2), and game conservation areas at Kitengela (583 km2) and West Chyulu (368 km2), restricting the use of these areas by the Maasai.

Maasai complaints about the encroachment of cultivation into dry-season grazing were common between 1940 and 1955. A drought in 1948-50 increased conflicts between the Maasai pastoralists and non-Maasai farmers; as a result in 1951 the County Council was given the power to restrict cultivation under Land Usage Bye-Laws. A state of emergency was declared in 1952 and thousands of Kikuyus were repatriated from Ngong and Loitokitok to their own reserve, temporarily reducing cultivation in Kajiado District (Campbell, 1979b).

In 1955 the Swynnerton Plan identified five conditions for sound and productive use of rangelands (Republic of Kenya, 1955:31; quoted in Campbell, 1981:223):

1. The numbers of resident stock must be limited to the carrying capacity of the land.

2. There must be assured and regular outlets which will absorb all excess stock.

3. An adequate system of permanent water supplies must be constructed.

4. Grazing must be controlled and managed at a productive level and owners must maintain their grazing area.

5. Where access to grazing is denied by tsetse fly, provided such grazings will be controlled, the tsetse must be eradicated.

Figure 3.4. The Maasai reserves in Kenya, 1904-11.

This Plan presaged the assumptions on which group ranches were eventually to be formed.

Following independence in 1963, the government promoted transfer of land from Europeans to Africans. This was done swiftly in the high-potential areas through the programme of land settlement and land transfer in the former scheduled areas owned by white settlers. By 1970, about 1.2 million ha of land had been adjudicated in the high-potential areas, in contrast to only 0.21 million in the range areas, including individual farms, ranches and group ranches. However, land was given to the landless, unemployed and "progressive" African farmers, and was not returned to the groups which occupied them traditionally. The Maasai colonial land losses were never recouped. The Government of Kenya has vigorously pursued adjudication of land to Kenyans on the basis of freehold tenure.7

7 Through adjudication, communal trust land becomes freehold title land with titles held either by groups or individuals.

In the period just prior to independence the Maasai were worried that the treaties of 1911 and 1912 would be abrogated and non-Maasai would occupy their land. Such fears were exacerbated by major migrations of farmers, particularly Kikuyu and Kamba, to the well-watered areas of Ngong and Loitokitok and the mounting pressure in these areas for adjudication into individual holdings. By 1964 more than 8000 ha of the best dry-season grazing around Ngong had been adjudicated into small individual farms. In addition, grazing land was being set aside as large individual ranches for Maasai leaders and government officials with the blessing of the District Council. By 1965, 22000 hectares (out of 322000 ha) in Kaputiei section alone had been allocated to 28 men (Lewis (1965), quoted by Hedlund (1971)). Between 1966 and 1969 more than 16000 hectares on the higher-potential slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro were adjudicated, largely to non-Maasai, legalising the loss of this important dry-season grazing area.

In 1963 a Range Management Division was created in the Ministry of Agriculture to advise government and implement programmes for conservation, management and use of rangelands. The Division relied heavily on Brown (1963) for its analysis of the problems to be tackled in the rangelands. Brown (1963) saw the basic goal as range preservation, which could be achieved by limiting stock to carrying capacity and controlling stock movement through rotational grazing. He thought this could be achieved in areas with communal tenure by resuscitating communal grazing schemes, establishing individual ranches or establishing of corporate grazing associations with fixed areas of land.

3.2.3 Origins of the group ranches

In late 1965 the Kenyan Government submitted a proposal for a livestock project to the World Bank8. This proposed a variety of organisational structures for the different social and ecological systems in Kenya: for the better-watered pastoral areas, including Kajiado, this entailed changing the orientation of production from subsistence to commercial orientation, primarily through group ranching. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) agreed to help inventory the range resources, livestock and wildlife populations and hydrology as a basis for more detailed planning.

8 This was revised in late 1966 to clarify land adjudication aspects and the role of a proposed UNDP project.

Staff of the Range Management Division noted that, in communally owned grazing areas, piecemeal approaches to changing production strategies had failed. They recommended an approach that would involve comprehensive programmes for well-defined communities sharing common interests with benefits clear to each individual and with flexibility to change as the people progressed from traditional to more commercial production. They noted that the provision of infrastructures alone would not be sufficient: rather major changes in land tenure and organisation would be required.

Security of tenure was advocated as a key instrument in promoting the development of the pastoral rangelands. It was believed that security of tenure would reduce the pastoralists' tendency to overstock the ranges, increase their incentive to invest in range improvement and act as collateral for loans to invest in these improvements (Republic of Kenya, 1974).

When the Range Management Division originally proposed ranch adjudication it thought that the principles applied in the high-potential lands would also apply to the rangelands, i.e. the amount of resources allocated to a producer would be proportional to what he controlled at the time of adjudication, but "shares" would be in stock numbers rather than acreage. These stock rights would be negotiable. The exact number of stock would not be fixed because members of the group ranches would be encouraged to increase the carrying capacity of their land. The allocation of the increased number of animals resulting from increased carrying capacity would be decided by the group ranch committee, but it was hoped that some would be given to poorer households. Echoing the Swynnerton Plan, however, it was clear that many Maasai would have rights to too few stock to meet their subsistence requirements.

When the Land (Group Representatives) Act was enacted in 1968 it stated that "each member shall be deemed to share in the ownership of the group ranch in undivided shares." The issue of grazing quotas was not included in the legislation, thereby undermining the original concept.

3.3 The socio economic impact of group ranches in Kajiado Maasailand

3.3.1 The planners' concept of the group ranches
3.3.2 The land adjudication process
3.3.3 Phase I group ranches9
3.3.4 Subsequent phases of group ranch development
3.3.5 Group ranch functioning
3.3.6 The impact of group ranches on territorial organisation and administration
3.3.7 Pressure for subdivision of group ranches

This section briefly describes the concept of group ranches, and the adjudication of land to group and individual ranches in Kajiado District. Particular attention is paid to territorial organisation and administration, and the current pressure for subdivision in some areas. Finally a brief review of the technical and social changes that have occurred on the Phase I group ranches from their establishment in 1970 until 1985.

3.3.1 The planners' concept of the group ranches

The group ranch concept represented a new approach to pastoral development and was a first attempt to radically transform a nomadic subsistence production system into a sedentary, commercially oriented system. It called for major changes in Maasai social and political organisation and livestock management strategies. The group ranch development plan envisaged:

· Adjudication of trust land into 'ranches' with freehold title deeds held by groups.

· Registration of permanent members of each ranch; these members were thus to be excluded from other ranches.

· Allocation of grazing quotas to members to limit animal numbers to the carrying capacity of the ranches.

· Development of shared ranch infrastructure such as water points, dips, stock handling facilities and firebreaks, using loans. Members would pay user fees and be collectively responsible for loan repayment.

· Members would manage their own livestock and would be able to obtain loans for purchasing breeding stock and cattle for fattening.

· A group ranch committee would be elected to manage all group ranch affairs including:

· overseeing infrastructural development and loan repayments;
· enforcing grazing quotas and grazing management;
· maintaining the integrity of the group ranch boundary.

· The group ranch committee would be assisted by a hired ranch manager and the extension service.

It was decided to limit the first phase of group ranch development to one Maasai section, rather than to adjudicate the whole of Maasailand at once, as was the original intention of the Range Management Division. Kaputiei section was chosen in part because its leaders were strongly in favour of land adjudication because they feared encroachment on their territory by the 1-million-strong Wakamba in the north-west and by the Kisongo Maasai (the largest section in Kajiado) in the south-west. Elite Maasai were also carving out large individual ranches for themselves.

Although "Maasai" were consulted about the desirability of group ranches and were involved in their formation, these were primarily educated Maasai tied into the national political system. Many of them were also given individual ranches. The average Maasai had at best little understanding of the group ranch concept. Although most Kaputiei Maasai wanted security of tenure, many were not in favour of group ranches as initially designed. Some wanted the whole oloshon demarcated as one group ranch while others preferred each subsection to be a group ranch. Some wanted only individual ranches to be demarcated. Still others were never won over to the group ranch concept.

3.3.2 The land adjudication process

The land adjudication process changed with time and varied by oloshon. However, this section describes the basic procedure used to partition Maasai territory into individual and group ranches.

Each administrative division had a Land Adjudication Officer (DLAO) who was responsible for overseeing the adjudication procedure. Adjudication involved determining boundaries both between and within sections. To a large extent administrative boundaries were used in the initial stage as these tended to coincide with sectional boundaries.

The rough boundaries of large areas called "adjudication sections" were drawn after discussions with chiefs and elders of a section and its neighbouring sections. These boundaries were based largely on a combination of boundaries of administrative divisions and Maasai locations or subsections. After the boundaries of each adjudication section had been approved by the Registrar of Group Lands in Nairobi, the DLAO and local chiefs called a meeting to declare the adjudication section open and to appoint a committee to divide it into ranches and to register members. At this stage the issue technically became an internal, local one. However, particularly in Phase I, there appears to have been considerable interference by planners to ensure that each ranch was a suitable size and that ranch boundaries would be permanent and easy to recognise (e.g. a straight line from hill A to hill B).

Once the boundaries of the group ranches were determined, each household head was told to register for one ranch. Although in theory a person could register for only one ranch (group or individual), in practice people were commonly able to register for more than one ranch. In order not to cut off any Maasai from their culturally defined right to residence and grazing in their section, great efforts were made to register all Maasai, whether or not they were still engaged in pastoralism at the time. Maasai age-sets were used to determine a man's eligibility to register for ranch membership: A senior moran could register only if his father was deceased; a few widows and unmarried mothers were registered in trust for their children if none of the latter had reached senior moranship. In potentially arable areas, non-Maasai who had been resident for a long time were also registered.

Once registration was complete, people were given 60 days to make protests, after which the results of the adjudication were binding.

3.3.3 Phase I group ranches9

9 This section is based largely on the work of Davis (1970), Hedlund (1971) and Halderman (1972).

In 1964 the Range Management Division established the prototype group ranch, Poka, in Kaputiei section to test the feasibility of the group ranches. Poka consisted of 36 self-selected members on nearly 9000 ha of some of Kaputiei's best grazing land. The Division gave ranch members considerable technical and financial support. Water points and dips were built in 1965. The ranch was given a loan in 1967 under which every member received a Sahiwal bull and cash to buy steers for fattening; poorer people were also given credit to buy breeding stock.

Between 1968 and 1970 14 group ranches were established in Kaputiei. Several individually owned ranches were also adjudicated; these largely gave legal status to existing operations of Maasai elite. In the northernmost part of Kaputiei members of three group ranches resisted their establishment and began a legal battle for individual title deeds. In addition to being close to Nairobi, this area lies within the Athi-Kapiti plains and is of much greater ecological potential than most of the oloshon. There were also disputes over the Kitengela game conservation area, which the government wanted to add to the Nairobi National Park. The Maasai. occupied the area, and eventually forced its adjudication into individual ranches.

With the Phase I ranches it seems that most producers registered in the location they were using at the time of adjudication. However, some signed up in areas they thought preferable to their immediate location; some educated groups of relatives signed up in different group ranches to maximise future access to dispersed resources, and some allegedly managed to register even minor sons. Committee members complained that the land adjudication officers did not follow their recommendations, claiming they were better trained to determine boundaries. In addition, they appeared to be swayed by certain local groups who were strong enough to expand their ranches at the expense of less vociferous groups. Even today, boundary disputes remain a problem in Phase I group ranches.

Planners in Phase I had strong ideas about the optimal size for group ranches and exerted a lot of pressure to make sure that ranches fitted these. They were clearly concerned about ecological viability, as this was a necessity for boundary maintenance. However, they were equally concerned that the group ranches be small enough in terms of numbers of members to be workable with elections and committee decision-making. Hence they rejected suggestions that the section or subsections should be the basis for group ranches. Planners reduced their efforts to impose their ideal ranch size in later phases as it became clear that even the small units were not working effectively, as adjudication moved to drier areas, and as the Maasai became more forceful in demanding their way. As a result, Phase I group ranches are, on the average, the smallest to be found in Kajiado District, averaging only 16300 hectares, with an average number of registered members of 155 in 1984.

Clearly the Maasai espoused the concept of group ranches largely to stem encroachment of farmers of other ethnic groups on Maasai territory and because of the promise of finance to develop ranch infrastructure (Njoka, 1979). However, they apparently never accepted the idea of grazing quotas. These were to be allocated to each household in proportion to the number of animals owned at the time of incorporation; thus people with large herds at the time of incorporation would have had, in perpetuity, greater rights than people who were poor then. This goes against the Maasai ideology of equal opportunity which rejects fixed wealth or class statuses. Even now in Kaputiei subdivision of group ranches is discussed in terms of equal amounts of land10.

10 Although the Maasai have a strong ideology of equality' actual livestock holdings at any one time vary markedly (see Section 1.2.2: Producer heterogeneity and sampling design).

Originally, the group ranch concept included provision for the purchase of steers to fatten in years of good rainfall to take advantage of higher carrying capacity. This was aimed at poor households, to compensate them for their low grazing quotas. In practice, however, the loans have been given to the group ranch as a whole and the profits used to pay off its ever-accumulating debts.

Boundary maintenance was also an integral part of the group ranch concept. By tying people to small fixed areas of land, it was hoped to sedentarise the Maasai, to make them aware of the scarcity and value of land, and to encourage them to make the investment necessary to improve the land. Clearly the Maasai now realise that land is both finite and valuable, and increasingly, they identify with their group ranch rather than with their section, particularly in Kaputiei. Group ranches often try (although weakly) to prevent non-members from using their land; this parallel earlier attempts by one section to discourage grazing by other sections on their lands. However, Maasai still acknowledge the need for mobility during drought and realise that people cannot be restricted to their own ranch at all times. They thus do not believe strict boundary maintenance is either possible or desirable.

3.3.4 Subsequent phases of group ranch development

The World Bank Appraisal mission recommended that Phase I group ranches be limited to Kaputiei section and that the effect of these be studied before adjudication spread to the rest of Maasailand. This did not happen for several reasons. First, the establishment of Phase I was delayed, partially because of delays in passing the necessary legislation. In addition, once the process of adjudication began in Kaputiei, other sections became concerned about possible loss of their land, and the declaration of adjudication areas (but not group ranch incorporation) was completed throughout Maasailand during the Phase I time period. The actual division into group ranches and their incorporation came in two later phases, Phase II (1975-78) and Phase III (1979 present), and in some areas is not complete.

The Office of the Registrar of Group Lands has had only one senior officer throughout the project periods. This has significantly hampered close interaction with the adjudication committees. In addition, as responsibility for group ranches was shifted from the Range Management Division (which developed Poka) to the Agricultural Finance Corporation (which the World Bank felt would better control financing decisions), field efforts seemed to dwindle. This problem was exacerbated as the number of ranches increased. Ranches developed in Phases II and III appear to have had far less input (and perhaps interference) than the Phase I ranches.

In Phase III, meetings to open adjudication areas and form committees were often held in towns rather than in traditional meeting places. Older, more conservative Maasai, including some of the wealthiest producers, were often against group ranches and boycotted the meetings, only to find that committees were formed of young, more urbane men, often traders with good Swahili skills and urban connections. These committee members awarded themselves large individual ranches, relegating the conservative people to a "residual" group ranch area. This led to conflicts and many areas, particularly in Keekonyoki section, are still not incorporated. Although they appear on paper as group ranches, the ranches are being subdivided.

In better-watered areas, many Maasai resolved to avoid group ranches and move directly into individual tenure. Government policy at the time did not approve of this procedure, largely out of concern for ecological viability of small holdings and a determination to make group ranches work. The result was delays in incorporation, or acceptance of incorporation into a group ranch to ensure a title deed with the tacit understanding that as soon as government policy permitted, individual titles would be obtained.

In drier areas, particularly in the southern and western parts of Kajiado, the Maasai established much larger group ranches, the borders of which essentially coincided with the original adjudication sections. This was largely true in Lodokilani and Matapato sections and in Kisongo section (except the arable areas). Thus, whereas the mean size of Phase I group ranches was 16300 ha, the mean size of later group ranches was over 34000 ha and the average number of members was over 300.

Whereas traditionally there were eight sections in Kajiado District with a mean size of 2275 km2, in 1985 there were 51 group ranches, with a mean size of 300 km2, and hundreds of individually owned ranches. Whereas early on in the adjudication of Kajiado District large individual ranches were the prerogative of the elite, later, as some people refused group ranches, their areas were individually adjudicated, but into much smaller ranches. It seems, however, that the land is still largely used communally in many of these areas.

3.3.5 Group ranch functioning

The group ranch structure has reduced the flexibility and mobility of the traditional Maasai system. Maasai are no longer free to move wherever they want within their sections or even within their subsection. Some localities and even neighbourhoods have been split by group ranch boundaries. Group ranches have exacerbated the erosion of traditional authority begun in colonial times, including the authority to control grazing resources, but in general the group ranch committees have not been able to replace the traditional authorities.

The effect of imposing group ranch organisation was demonstrated in Mbirikani, the southern-most study site, which was incorporated in 1980 (Peacock et al, 1982). Although the traditional neighbourhood-based grazing system had been disrupted numerous times in the recent past, for example by the loss of land to Amboseli National Park and the development of new water points, it had adapted and remained essentially intact (see Section 5.3.3: Grazing patterns and stocking rates in the southern ranch). However, when the area was hit by a minor drought in late 1981 and 1982, control overgrazing broke down. As Peacock et al (1982:29) stated:

"It is unclear to both group-ranch committee members and non-members what role, if any, the recently formed group ranch committee has either in the old system, or in creating a new system of grazing resource control. There is in many... [neighbourhoods] in the ranch a vacuum of authority, whilst in other neighbourhoods the residents are trying hard to maintain the old order. "

When people returned to the ranch at the end of the drought, they proposed restoration of traditional-style grazing control, with areas set aside for residence and for grazing during different seasons. This was accepted by the committee and enforced by the administration police, and was continuing through to 1985, when this study ended.

There is no record of similar events in Kaputiei. However, many elders say that the group ranch committees were unable to enforce grazing regulations, and in several known instances fines were levied by committees but were not collected. In extreme cases, water points that were developed under the group ranches according to Range Management Division plans were left in disrepair as the only way to enforce grazing control in what had previously been dry-season reserves.

Despite the trend towards increased sedentarisation, producers are still concerned about being confined to a single ranch. Although they tend to stay within their group ranch boundaries in normal times, especially where the group ranch includes traditional neighbourhood grazing areas, producers move beyond ranch boundaries in times of stress. For example, in June 1982, at the height of a moderate drought in Mbirikani, 75% of the sample herd were grazing outside the ranch; they remained outside the ranch until the rains resumed in November. In the droughts of 1984,85% of Olkarkar households sent most of their cattle off the ranch (Grandin and Lembuya, 1987).

3.3.6 The impact of group ranches on territorial organisation and administration

The Kaputiei section covers about 310000 ha (Table 3.4), all of which under the traditional system would theoretically have been available to each producer who was a member of the section. However, households tended to stay in the same subsection and even the same locality.

The effect of the organisation of group ranches is demonstrated by one locality in north-eastern Kaputiei section. Before the group ranches this is thought to have covered about 40000 hectares, with three permanent water points and about 10 neighbourhoods. Producers had free access to all the grazing and water sources throughout the locality.

Table 3.4. Size of, and number of households in, each subsection in Kaputiei section before introduction of group ranches.

Size (ha)

Approximate number of households





- Matapato



- Kenyawa



Whole section



In 1970 the locality was broken up among four different group ranches. Members of each ranch retain close relationships with members of the other ranches; intermarriage is common, much gifting of livestock and other forms of sociability and mutual cooperation across ranch boundaries. However, there have been disputes between ranches over calf pastures that were formerly shared, over the location of new calf pastures and over access to surface water.

Group ranches in Kaputiei section had a mean area of 16900 ha (Table 3.5). Thus, from having potentially free access to 310000 ha of grazing, each Kaputiei producer has been restricted to only one twentieth of that area.

Internal administrative reorganisation

Traditionally, Maasai local affairs were decided by groups or councils of elders on the basis of consensus. Producers who disagreed with the majority were free to go to another boma, neighbourhood or locality. In contrast, group ranches required management by democratically elected committees with the authority to impose their will on members, who are permanently tied to the ranch.

Effective bureaucratic organisation requires the virtual absence of prior ties among individuals, while democratic decision-making can be effective only in the absence of serious factions or when conditions prevent a single faction from dominating. These conditions are not met by the Maasai, with their complex ties and tradition of individual autonomy. As a result, group ranch committees tend not to meet. If they do meet, they deal in non-controversial generalities or, if they address specifics, are unable to reach a conclusion. Even if the committee reached a conclusion it would not be able to enforce it (Dyson-Hudson, 1985).

In summary, the formation of group ranches introduced a new level of territorial and administrative organisation and a new method of decision making, aimed at radically changing Maasai production. In practice, however, they have incapacitated traditional leadership in many parts of Maasailand, without providing a workable substitute.

3.3.7 Pressure for subdivision of group ranches

As noted earlier, high potential lands near Ngong and Loitokitok were adjudicated in the mid-1960s into individual farms with freehold tenure. At the same time elite Maasai were claiming large individual ranches on the plains. This made it difficult for policy-makers to continue to force group title deeds on people in other parts, despite the concerns of the policy-makers about the viability of individual holdings.

Even at the inception of KLDP I, some Maasai in better-watered areas of Kaputiei near Nairobi refused adjudication into group ranches and pressed for individual tenure. As problems with group ranches became apparent, Maasai in areas that had not been adjudicated opted to move directly to individual tenure. Many areas which initially accepted group ranches are now pressing for subdivision. According to Jacobs (1984a), 29 of the 52 group ranches in Kajiado District have passed resolutions to subdivide. Seven of these had, de facto, subdivided land equally among the registered members but were awaiting official adjudication and issuance of title deeds by the government, which will not permit subdivision while a ranch has loans outstanding. The remaining 22 were at various stages in the process leading to subdivision. Several had never functioned as group ranches, but used the group-ranch concept merely as a device to secure borders.

Table 3.5. Number, size and membership of group ranches and approximate number of individual ranches in Kaputiei section in 1980.


Mean size (ha)

Number of registered members1

Approximate number of individual ranches
















Whole section





1 As of 1980, there has been an estimated increase in membership of 20% since that time (Jacobs, 1984b).

a Largely from the refusal of proposed group ranches and immediate move to individual holdings (Jacobs, 1984b).

Excludes the Ngong area.

The seven group ranches that had implemented subdivision were all close to urban centres, had areas of arable and irrigable land, and were among the first group ranches in the District. In contrast, ranches that had resolved not to subdivide had no arable land; they are all located in the drier parts of the western, southern and southeastern parts of the District. The only exception to this is Kimana group ranch, which has patches of irrigable land along the Kimana swamps (ole Pasha, 1986).

The desire and haste for individual tenure stems from a variety of factors including:

· wanting a title deed as collateral for loans, which are denied to group ranchers as individuals;

· frustration with the inefficiency of the organisation/management of group ranches;

· a burgeoning group of mature young men who want their own land (and collateral) rather than a share of their father's land;

· fear of further land alienation, enhanced by the government's inability to control squatting on group ranches; and

· a general move towards more individual production (Grandin, 1987a).

Those who oppose subdivision do so on several interrelated fronts: They believe that while non-Maasai were kept out of Maasailand by the group ranches, these people would find it easy to buy individual holdings. This would lead to an influx of outsiders, especially farmers taking up arable land. Increased cultivation would result in severe erosion, such as that experienced in other parts of Kenya, e.g. Machakos District. In addition, the presence of large numbers of non-Maasai among the Maasai would result in the erosion and eventual loss of Maasai culture, which they want to see preserved. Finally, they believe that people holding individual title over a piece of land will tend to see that land as their private property and protect it as such. This will curtail the usual livestock movements across what was group-ranch territory. People who grow crops will be forced to fence their farms or gardens to protect their crops from wildlife and livestock, further restricting movement of livestock (ole Pasha, 1986).

3.4 A summary of major changes in the last 20 years

3.4.1 Technical parameters
3.4.2 Social parameters

The 20 years since Poka, the prototype group ranch, was established have witnessed a number of major production and social changes in Maasailand. Despite the paucity of data on the situation before the group ranches, the difficulty of segregating project effects from time effects, and the complexity of analysis arising from climatic fluctuations, some indication of the general impacts of group ranches can be observed.

3.4.1 Technical parameters

Infrastructural development

Twenty-three dips and 31 water points were installed on Phase I group ranches. By 1981 only 11 dips and 19 water points were still functional. On many group ranches, stock were dipped regularly only when acaricide was being provided using money from loads. Generally, the group ranches did not develop mechanisms for providing acaricide or a dip attendant.

Cattle herd structure and offtake

The structure of the cattle herd did not change significantly between 1967, before the establishment of the group ranches, and 1981; the proportion of females in the herd remained constant at 67% (King et al, 1984). This indicates that the Maasai continued to manage their cattle for maximum milk production and recovery, rather than opting for increased beef offtake, as the project intended.

Offtake of cattle from Maasailand has increased since the early 1960s. This may be primarily an increase in absolute numbers rather than in rates, although the decline in the number of livestock per person apparently necessitated increased rates of sale of livestock and purchase of foodstuffs (see Section 3.2.2: Historical influences on land use; Section 8.5: Household patterns of income and expenditure).

Cyclical fluctuations in animal production

Maasai pastoralists have always suffered large losses of stock during droughts (see Section 3.2.1: Human and livestock population trends). The establishment of group ranches did not appear to alter this during the droughts of 1976 and 1984, when they again lost a large proportion of their stock.

New inputs and strategies

The degree to which the group ranches have altered management strategies cannot be determined with available data. However, there are indications that members of group ranches:

· move their animals over shorter distances;
· make wider use of acaricide and other veterinary preparations;
· make wider use of salt licks, especially for smallstock;
· water their stock more often; and
· make more use of improved breeds of cattle, especially the Sahiwal.

Range conservation

The livestock population has not been reduced by introducing group ranches because the Maasai rejected the principle of grazing quotas. The planners apparently never determined the number and combination of animals needed to support a family from year to year and general voluntary income redistribution is no more feasible among Maasai than it would be in other societies (Dyson-Hudson, 1985).

ILCA's data on range condition indicate that, in all ranches, grazing is heaviest around human settlements, not around water points. In general, the range has regenerated well following the last two droughts, which suggests that degradation of the rangelands is not increasing. However, the data indicate that the post-drought recovery of the rangeland was possible only because of the continuation of the traditional cycle of boom and bust, i.e. because of the large reduction of the livestock population following the drought.

Introduction of cultivation

Increasingly Maasai are cultivating their land, despite strong cultural proscriptions on digging the ground (Jacobs, 1975). Njoka (1979) found that 60% of the Kaputiei households surveyed had tried cropping. More families had started cropping in the aftermath of the 1974/75 drought than had done so in all previous years (35% vs 25% of households).

Preliminary observations indicate that:

· although crop production (mainly maize and beans) is increasing, many families grow crops in post-drought periods but abandon cropping when herds and flocks recover;

· much of the cultivation is done by non-Maasai, including hired labourers from neighbouring agricultural groups, or, less commonly, by non-Maasai wives.

Rainfed crops yield well about one season in three in all but the best watered parts of Maasailand. A few Maasai have gained land in well watered or irrigable locations, but data suggest this is often rented to non-Maasai.

3.4.2 Social parameters

The impact of group ranches on territorial organisation and administration has already been outlined. Equally important changes have occurred at lower levels of socio-spatial organisation, especially affecting residence and boma composition. Other, related changes include increased individualisation of production, and decline in the political role of age-sets and clans.

Decreased boma size

The mean size of a boma in Kaputiei fell from 6.2 households in the 1950s to 5.1 households in the 1960s and 2.7 households in the 1970s (Njoka, 1979). Single-household bomas, traditionally anathema, became more common in the 1970s. Although the large decline in boma size coincided with the introduction of the group ranches it may not have been caused by their introduction; Jacobs (1979) noted a similar decline in boma size in Tanzania Maasailand, where group ranches have not been introduced.

The boma was traditionally the unit of cooperation in herding, and decline in boma size has important implications for livestock management (see Section 5.1.1: Household size and composition).


The people and animals of Kaputiei section have become more sedentary since group ranches were introduced there. There are indications that this is also happening in Kisongo section. Neighbourhoods and bomas are beginning to break down as individual producers spread out across the landscape, establishing individual bomas and often establishing their own individual calf pastures (Grandin, 1987b).

According to Maasai tradition, a man-made improvement (e.g. a well) gives the builder a special claim to the surrounding area. The Maasai view the building of permanent domestic structures largely as a way to claim land. In 1978, out of 365 bomas sampled in north-eastern Kaputiei, 65 had permanent structures, primarily houses, of which 82% had been built since the establishment of group ranches (Njoka, 1979). Most bomas had only one permanent structure; most people continue to live in traditional houses.

Although the Maasai see advantages to sedentarisation, particularly in terms of human comfort, it also brings socio-psychological problems. Pastoralists were used to walking away from any social problem, and thus have less well developed institutions to cope with disputes than settled farmers.

Individualisation of production and social decline

Patterns of cooperation among Maasai seem to be beginning to change. For example, the declining size of the boma seems to be in response to a desire for less cooperation in animal production, as illustrated by an unwillingness to share purchased inputs. Maasai claim that herds are smaller now and thus there is less need for cooperative herding. Nevertheless, this apparent decline in cooperation has coincided with an increase in the proportion of children attending school, leading to labour shortages and the use of women and occasionally hired labour for herding (see Section 6.1: Labour).

Maasai now obtain some livestock production inputs, such as breeding stock, labour and veterinary drugs, through the market place as well as through social channels. As they become more sedentary, the Maasai have tended to develop and maintain few, close ties; the importance of widely dispersed social ties, especially those of clanship and age-set, is apparently declining. For example, fewer animals are lent, exchanged or gifted in Phase I group ranches than in more recently established ranches (see Section 8.2.2: Sales and purchases).

Dietary changes and health care

The traditional Maasai reliance on milk for subsistence has begun to change dramatically, largely due to increases in human population, but also to the unequal distribution of cattle among the population.

In the past all Maasai would eat agricultural foodstuffs during droughts. Now, however, poor people rely primarily on agricultural foodstuffs throughout the year, while the rich depend on them in the dry season and use them in the wet season for dietary variation. The most important foods are sugar, tea, maize, beans, rice and potatoes. Whereas sugar and tea have had an important role for over a generation, the others are relatively new additions to the diet. Most of the agricultural foodstuffs consumed are purchased with proceeds of the sale of stock. However, as noted earlier, increasingly Maasai are trying to grow crops, particularly after droughts.

There are two hospitals in Kajiado District, one each at Kajiado and Loitokitok towns. There are clinics and health dispensaries in major trading centres throughout the District; these offer free services and medication. Maasai also buy drugs from shops for curing simple ailments such as colds, headaches and malaria. Nestel (1985) reported that up to 70% of children had been inoculated, although full courses of vaccination were much less common. More than two-thirds of people sampled sought modern medical attention when seriously ill. Nonetheless, the traditional healers (laibons) and herbalists still play an important medical role.


Maasai are increasingly aware that they live in a changing world, that the lives of their children will be very different from their own. They stress the importance of education to the child's general ability to cope with the wider environment; as they deal more and more with non-Maasai, they realise that both literacy and a sound knowledge of Swahili is necessary (see Section 6.1: Labour).

The reason most commonly given for sending children to school, however, is the hope that they will find employment. Parents view a son's education as a good investment, citing cases of employed children sending money to their parents to buy cattle. Unfortunately, the prospects for employment for Maasai school-leavers seem limited and many remain in the ranches as pastoralists and traders.


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