Voices from Maasai Women: thoughts on Mindy Bugdor’s ‘Warrior Princess’

September 13, 2013 · 20 comments

I have been toying with the idea of writing a full blog post in response Mindy Budgor’s ill-advised Warrior Princess book that I linked to yesterday. Partly because I got so incensed by and felt I really needed to dig deeper to understand her reasoning for thinking this was a good idea. Then I thought, how many amateur NGO’s or ‘guilt of privilege’ projects have I heard of that started after a volunteer came back from a two-week trip to Africa or read about some injustice on the continent? Nearly all of them turn out to be spectacular disasters. So why should I waste any more energy on this one?

Thankfully, I don’t have to write that post because a far better reason emerged in our Facebook discussion group I posted about earlier today. Rarin Ole Sein, has been a long-time social media buddy of mine. Seeing how she’s a strong Maasai woman, there’s not much I can add to this debate that is more authentic than her voice – after all, Mindy Budgor’s whole purpose was an attempt to “rescue” Maasai women from their culturally embedded inequality. So who am I to step in, in defense of Maasai women when they can do it themselves. So in the spirit of not speaking for others when they can, I’ll simply point to her post from this afternoon:

I have expressed how I feel about this piece elsewhere but I have to add my 2 cts to this discussion as a Kenyan Maasai Woman. What I find disturbing about it;

  1. Of course the obvious ‘white savior’ aspect – she came, she did and now we all should be able to follow suit. Like we needed her to come show us the way. Who told her we want to be ‘warriors’? Who told her we need to be ‘warriors’ to make a ‘difference’?
  2. The culture insensitiveness of it all – that she can just trot into the wilderness and claim to be a ‘warrior’ after a month WTF it takes about 15 years to be a Moran and even then some don’t make it – so what is she saying – the Maasai morans are slackers?
  3. Insulting to the many Maasai women and Maasai Culture in general. Especially all the brilliant women working towards equality for themselves and girls. As far as I know Maasai women don’t become warriors and don’t want to be warriors But if they want to and choose to…they don’t need an ‘outsider’ to come fight their fight for them. We can fight our own battles ourselves thank you! and ps: we are and continue to in ways that are respectful to our culture and our traditions. How would Native Americans feel if someone showed up did a few sun dances, slept in a tee pee and then claims to be a navajo warrior or something! idiocy!
  4. That she is making money off of this! That hurts! No difference between her and the colonialist or the slave traders….in my view she just came to take period! I would like to know if any of her book proceeds go back to the any of the people she used.
  5. Lastly we have to look on our side as well. Why is it so easy for us to sell ourselves like this? I mean i understand the money aspect but how do we prevent/educate our own folks from disgracefully selling themselves like this? If this woman was not a ‘mzungu’ she would never have had this experience let alone write about it. Are we still enslaved in our minds or what?

These are just my views and i don’t speak for my entire community, am sure there are some that will differ.

Additionally, if you are interested in digging deeper and approaching this from an academic perspective, I’ll point you to this 2011 paper [PDF] by Kakenya Emily Ntaiya, WARRIOR’S SPIRIT: THE STORIES OF FOUR WOMEN FROM KENYA’S ENDURING TRIBE, also herself a Maasai.

via African Diaspora.

Naima September 14, 2013 at 9:07 pm

Some people still do not understand the meaning of a CULTURE as an identity of a group of people. This woman was supposed to learn and know the meaning of a warrior in a Maasai perspective not as a native American. Men becoming Maasai warriors and women not, is not a matter of equality!! That is just our culture/identity. I am very sure there is no a Maasai lady who wish to be called a “Moran”. No one will attain Maasai warriorship just by being able to fight otherwise many amazing Maasai women and boys should be fighter just to be warriors. Becoming a Moran is attained by men who undergo through different processes and they hold that title of being a Moran for a limited of time, thus why we have different categories of age group. After a certain time, planned by the Maa community, the current moran will no longer be called Moran. That does not mean those men lost their ability to fight, that is just our CULTURE. Thus why, not all men are Maasai warriors. For example, boys are not moran and will never be even if they can fight until they undergo those cultural procedures at a specific time!! But did this native American woman knew about that? Until, she is named A FIRST WOMAN TO BECAME A MAASAI WARRIOR? How can she became a MAASAI warrior and she is not from a Maasai tribe? Did she think there is no AFRICAN men and women who are not from a Maasai tribe but able to fight and qualify to be warriors in a Maa community if warriorship is attained by ability to fight? Well, becoming a moran/warrior is just a MAASAI PEOPLE’S CULTURE.

An advice to the maasai people, please let us educated our communities about participating in different projects. Let us be curious about what people ask us to do, about what we say during interviews. And for those who does not know much about the culture, please find someone else to help you. Do not give false information to be written because it will destroy our culture which is our identity. Of course, not all things in our culture are good but we have a lot of good things to preserve.

chief_doodle September 15, 2013 at 2:54 pm

Thanks for the detail into what it takes to be a Moran, Naima. I hope that more people read between the lines and demand more nuance and accountability. But as we both know, that’s few and far in between. Many people rarely read for, or demand depth – preferring to simply skim the headlines and nod in agreement.

Thanks again for the thoughtful comment.

Jared Purdy September 15, 2013 at 3:11 pm

Yes, thanks from me too. I was not aware of those nuances.

Jared Purdy September 15, 2013 at 12:26 pm

When you read Kakenya’s thesis, and then look at this Budgor issue, it is all the more incredulous. Budgor seems to live in a vacuous, hermetically sealed world where she can construct her own realities, regardless of the real lived experiences of others. Regretfully, she was able to offer someone (a Maasai man) some money so that she could have this faux experience and then market it as a real one. It’s the kind of experience that many North Americans could/would swallow because it is coming from “one of their own” and it fits within the narrative of Africa that they already have. In Teju Cole’s words, “the white industrial saviour complex”.

chief_doodle September 15, 2013 at 2:50 pm

As I mention elsewhere, badly guided voluntourism has its unintended consequences. This is the deep end extreme. Someone with means who thinks they can do whatever they want and nothing is beyond their reach. Money is privilege and it gives you access (around the world apparently). So many projects started by short stint with people thinking they can change situations that are centuries old. I hope this train wreck gets just as much attention in the international development complex as a case study in what not to do.

Chris Ford September 16, 2013 at 9:29 am

As Chinua Achebe once wrote about Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’, “Can nobody see the preposterous and perverse arrogance in thus reducing Africa to the role of props for the break-up of one petty European mind?”

architart September 22, 2013 at 11:00 am

You have eloquently explained the reasons why this book is breathtaking in its ignorance. I had not considered the exploitative quality as well and I thank you for reminding me. Interesting how a book purporting to be about change begins to resemble the same old white/black, darkness/light crap.

Jamie James September 23, 2013 at 11:42 pm

I just about pulled fists full of my own very blond, Slavic, Scandinavian, Anglo-Saxon, ethnic Jewish hair out when I read her bullshit line about the colour of her nail polish.

Solidarity.

chief_doodle September 23, 2013 at 11:43 pm

Hahaha, I hope you still have follicles.

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