Cricket and the Maasai Warriors
On Thursday, 04 February 2016, the Kenyan Maasai Cricket Warriors (MCW) strolled onto the SCG - Sydney Cricket Ground - bare-chested, draped in layers of traditional beads and colourful shuka cloth. One of the world's most unusual and unlikely cricketing teams they were here to play a cricket match against a team of Australian rugby union and rugby league players and, most importantly, to promote their social awareness campaign that includes rallying against female genital mutilation (FGM), substance abuse and environmental conservation.
Dropping their spears in favour of cricket bats the Warriors are ambassadors for positive change within their communities. Here is their story………
A Corner of a Foreign Field
A redacted version of the article originally written by Andy Bull in 20011 for The Spin
Around 50 kilometres outside Nanyuki, up on the dry and dusty northern slopes of the Lolldaiga hills in the Great Rift Valley, sits the little village of Il Polei. Anyone who makes the journey there can expect to see all sorts of rare and fantastic things: buffalos and elephants, gerenuks and baboons, and, if they're very lucky, possibly even a group of 20 or so Maasai warriors practicing their cover-drives on a freshly cut cricket strip.
Cricket came to this corner of Kenya entirely because of the efforts of one South African woman : Aliya Bauer. Bauer is what we Australians would call a 'cricket tragic', a player, a scorer, a coach and a fan. In 2004 she was posted to Il Polei to work on a research project about baboons.
"I was out here in the bush. I didn't have any chance to see any cricket, because I didn't have a TV," Bauer says, chuckling at the memory. "I really missed it. So I thought if there's no one here to play with, I'll just have to teach the people here how to play it."
She got some basic equipment and a few soft balls from back home, and went in to the local school to do an introductory session. The boys took to it, and she agreed to come back and coach them twice a week. The Maasai tribesmen passing the playing field were intrigued by this novel new sport, and would stop to watch. Their curiosity soon turned into a desire to have a go themselves. One of them was Nissan Jonathan Ole Meshami. A cowherd, the youngest child of a family of 11, he spent his days "wandering long distances with his cattle in the blazing heat in search of grazing and water. It was through chance and luck that I witnessed some cricket taking place at the school," Nissan says. "And after watching I wanted to try it out. I was fascinated by the bowling, and silently I was confident that I could master it especially with my powerful arm and spear-throwing ability." Nissan grew up herding his family's goats and sheep.
"While out in the bush I developed the skills to protect myself from wild animals," he says. "I mastered the art of throwing a spear at a very early age and I also became good at throwing stones long distances. If required I chased the animals away by throwing stones at high speed in their direction. This regular practice of throwing stones allowed me to develop a strong and powerful throwing arm."
He was, in short, a bit of a natural, particularly as a bowler. So Bauer drove off to an expat cricket tournament that was being held 90 minutes drive away, begged some proper kit off the players, and started coaching the Maasai men as well as the children. "With each passing week it got to a few more people coming," Bauer says. "And we pretty much had enough to make up a whole team. Maasai warriors have a naturally competitive nature, they want to prove themselves better than their friends, so they persevered. Especially with the bowling, which they saw as being a little like spear-throwing." Bauer realised she needed a little more help, and made contact with the charity Cricket Without Boundaries. They organised a coaching clinic for 56 locals, and secured enough kit to introduce the game to eight new local schools. Six years later and cricket was being played by 15 primary schools, five secondary schools and three youth groups in the area.
Being the person she is, Bauer used the cricket programme to target social problems in the Maasai community, such as the spread of Aids. The Maasai are traditionally polygamous, which has contributed to the syndrome's growth. Teachers taught how to incorporate HIV/Aids awareness into cricket and coaching with the ABC approach – Abstinence, Be Faithful and Condom Use.
"Abstaining from sex is like a batsman abstaining from hitting balls in the air so he is not caught. Being faithful to ones partner is like how batsmen must communicate to decide whether to make a run or not. And use of condoms is like how batsmen must protect their wickets."
More pleasing for Bauer was how the schoolgirls responded to the coaching. Maasai girls as young as 11 or 12 can be married off, and even if they are not they are still overburdened by onerous domestic duties at a similar age. "At first the girls were very reluctant, because in Maasai culture girls and women can be very oppressed. So they were very shy and very reserved," Bauer said. "Just trying to communicate with them was a challenge, because they couldn't even look at you. Then something remarkable happened, when they saw me coaching the guys every week they plucked up the courage to have a go. They came out of their shells and started expressing themselves through play. You could feel the sense of enjoyment, and that is something that is often denied them because they don't really have time to be children."
Since the above article was written the Maasai Cricket Warriors have gone on to play in Cape Town in 2012, at Lord's in 2013 and at the SCG in February 2016!
They have also become the latest stars in a new documentary film, 'WARRIORS', produced by England’s Ashes player James Anderson and British director Barney Douglas.
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