The Disappearing Pastures of the Maasai • Thomas Dworzak • Magnum Photos

Magnum Pro

Editorial Cultural Commercial Search Image Archive

Welcome to the New Magnum Photos Site

Explore the award-winning storytelling work of Magnum photographers here, or head to Magnum Pro to search and license photos from Magnum’s acclaimed image archive.

CONTINUE TO NEW SITE
SEARCH PHOTO ARCHIVE IN MAGNUM PRO
Social Issues

The Disappearing Pastures of the Maasai

In Northern Tanzania, not far from the Kenyan Border, the Maasai people are seeing their ancestral lands claimed by miners and the government - all amid a serious drought

Thomas Dworzak

Thomas Dworzak Carrying firewood. In 2016/4 ruby was discovered in the village of Mundarara, a traditional poor Maasai grazing area. Since then there has been a boom of ruby exploration, locals and arriving trade (...)

This article, by Ted Scheinman, was published alongside Thomas Dworzak’s photographs in Pacific Standard Magazine, August 2018. This report was a part of Pacific Standard’A Journey Through Contested Lands photo issue, produced in conjunction with Magnum photographers and made possible thanks to support from the Pulitzer Center.

The ruby rush in the Longido district in northern Tanzania began in 2017, when a Maasai herder first plucked a handful of the sharp-pink and bloody-purple gems from a hole in the dry earth. 

The Maasai, a semi-nomadic pastoralist people, have become accustomed to others laying claim to their ancestral territory. In recent years, the government grabbed their land for game hunters and real estate developers in Loliondo, several hours northwest. And now, the ruby miners have moved into Longido. 

Thomas Dworzak Eworendeke village. While women do the laundry Maasai warriors hang out at the water place, affected by a severe drought.Namanga, Arusha Region, Tanzania. 2018/02. © Thomas Dworzak/Magnum Photos (...)

"The natural stillness is pierced by the slow, persistent ring of mining tools "

-
Thomas Dworzak Eworendeke village. Maasai preparing the slaughtering of a sheep to ask for rain. A recent drought and the dislocation of their traditional grazing land has created difficulties, e.g. there are pra (...)
Thomas Dworzak Maasai husband of two wives. He was evicted by a combination of government and commercial deal, by force and his hut destroyed. Had to move 10km inland. But also is successfully involved in the rub (...)

The village of Mundarara is growing into something of a boomtown, with all the perils and promises that come with that condition. Residents say the character of the town has changed down to its very sounds: There’s now a constant buzzing and chattering around the tables in the village center, where locals haggle and sell tea and snacks to visiting ruby-seekers. In the distance, the natural stillness is pierced by the slow, persistent ring of mining tools. 

Thomas Dworzak Maasai cattle market, mostly for sheep and goats. Due to landgrab the distances between their place of living, herding and trading have increased, demanding more hours of walking in between. At thi (...)

"The Maasai raise livestock on migratory routes, a tradition imperiled by the surge of new activity in the region"

-
Thomas Dworzak Eworendeke village. Maasai woman who had moved further insland after the landgrab closer to the town. Namanga, Arusha Region, Tanzania. 2018/02. © Thomas Dworzak/Magnum Photos with support from the (...)
Thomas Dworzak Maasai cattle market, mostly for sheep and goats. Due to landgrab the distances between their place of living, herding and trading have increased, demanding more hours of walking in between. At thi (...)
Thomas Dworzak Severe drought. Maasai women carrying firewood. Longido area, Arusha Region, Tanzania. 2018/02. © Thomas Dworzak/Magnum Photos with support from the Pulitzer Center © Thomas Dworzak | Magnum Photos

The Maasai raise livestock on migratory routes, a tradition imperiled by the surge of new activity in the region. Rubies have brought new commerce to Longido, but government evictions and the effects of climate change have forced the Maasai to seek new, often drought-ridden grazing routes for their sheep, goats, and cattle. They must travel farther with their flocks and herds and work longer hours than ever before. Many have reluctantly migrated to cities, some as far away as Dar es Salaam, a 12-hour drive southeast. 

Thomas Dworzak Obomba Boma, Maasai village. Family of Maasai father who is trying to be part of the new Ruby boom, at the same time there has been an increase of evictions due to land grab in their area. In 2016 (...)

"The village of Mundarara is growing into something of a boomtown, with all the perils and promises that come with that condition"

-
Thomas Dworzak Exploring ruby next to a recently built mine. In 2016/4 ruby was discovered in the village of Mundarara, a traditional poor Maasai grazing area. Since then there has been a boom of ruby exploration (...)
Thomas Dworzak Maasai local ruby traders. In 2016/4 ruby was discovered in the village of Mundarara, a traditional poor Maasai grazing area. Since then there has been a boom of ruby exploration, locals and arrivi (...)

Seventy five kilometers east, in Eworendeke, government development, rather than mining, is forcing some Maasai out. In 2012, locals say, a government official used bureaucratic sleight of hand to trick them out of two-thirds of their land in a case that the villagers mean to take to court. 

Thomas Dworzak Restaurant catering to mostly Maasai herders and traders who come to the weekly community market. In 2016/4 ruby was discovered in the village of Mundarara, a traditional poor Maasai grazing area. (...)

In the face of a government that increasingly seems to want them gone, the Maasai of Mundarara and Eworendeke are determined to keep tending their flocks. One recent morning, a band of women walked in the first rays of dawn toward the village elder’s hut in Eworendeke, carrying a sheep they planned to sacrifice as a prayer for relief from the drought that has borne hard on this area, and on East Africa more generally. 

Thomas Dworzak Eworendeke village. Head of women's group. Maasai women preparing the slaughtering of a sheep to ask for rain. A recent drought and the dislocation of their traditional grazing land has created dif (...)

"Before the slaughter, the women sang soft prayers. The knife did its work, and the sun began to rise"

-
Thomas Dworzak Eworendeke village. Maasai women preparing the slaughtering of a sheep to ask for rain. A recent drought and the dislocation of their traditional grazing land has created difficulties, e.g. there a (...)

In Maasai tradition, the sheep should ideally be completely black, with no splotches of any other color, and must be slaughtered within the confines of traditional fences in the middle of the village. The person chosen to slaughter the black sheep must be kind and generous, a friend to everyone in the village, and innocent of any murders. Before the slaughter, the women sang soft prayers. The knife did its work, and the sun began to rise. 

Thomas Dworzak Ruby collectors, In 2016/4 ruby was discovered in the village of Mundarara, a traditional poor Maasai grazing area. Since then there has been a boom of ruby exploration, locals and arriving traders (...)
This project was made possible thanks to support from the Pulitzer Center.
This article appeared in Pacific Standard’s 2018 Photo Issue, Contested Lands, made in collaboration with Magnum Photos.