This profile was prepared when Martin Kariongi was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2003.
The New Idea
Numbering as many as 1.5 million, the Maasai are popularized as fierce warriors who are proud of their traditions and averse to change; they maintain lifestyles inconsistent with the trends of modern societies: urbanization, private ownership of land, and cash economies. Martin sees that this moment of greatest pressure on their traditional way of life presents an opportunity for Maasai people to examine who they are, reject aspects of their tradition that exclude or harm certain of their members, and carve out an economic niche that will allow them to survive as herders. Through a web of strategies–which include developing a communication infrastructure to link villages and improving veterinary services to support a commercial milk industry–Martin is positioning members of this pastoral group to resist abuse and exploitation, guide the adoption of democratic governance at every level of their society, and foster an appreciation of their lifestyle among non-Maasai. To capture and share his vision, he plans to produce video documentaries and has begun working directly with other tribal groups who face similar challenges.