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Commercial photographers in the Maasai region

Photographers are invading our culture

The Maasai people are among the indigenous people hunted by photographers, who found free access into a land filled with exoticism, wildlife and tribal people, where the law to protect indigenous people remains scarce. 

Some western photographers are stepping over boundaries; they are not being sensitive to our culture and way of life. They are invading and exploiting our people and culture for profit purposes.

Here are some questions to ask yourself, when looking at a portrait book with Maasai images:

Who is this person in the picture? What is her name? How does she feel being in a portrait book? Does she know that her picture is being sold in the western world? Did she receive anything in return? Has the photographer obtain a letter of consent from this person or from the community?

Now look at a portrait book, or magazine, with images of western people. Repeat the same questions stated above. 

It seems that a wild animal is given a better recognition than a Maasai person.

When you visit a zoo, for example, you’ll find that every animal, whether a lion, giraffe, gorilla, zebra, hippo, etc., has a name. If you talk to the keeper s/he will present that animal to you by its name. Why can't a photographer name a Maasai if s/he can name a wild animal? A Maasai is not less of a human being.

We have discovered disturbing images of our people in the western world

Recently, we came across images of a circumcision event, a sacred rite of passage that is not intended for the public. This discovery was shocking, sad, and disappointing to us, as this is a personal and sacred rite of passage that should have not been photographed, published, and sold to the public. 

The photographers must stop invading the privacy of the Maasai people, community, and culture. There are other ways to take images of the people without humiliating, invading, and exploiting the culture. Photographers can make profits without disrespecting the culture. On the other hand, the reader/viewer can learn about Maasai culture without supporting a disrespectful photographer. The reader has the power to change this behavior of a misbehaving photographer.

We are different from wild animals and are not running naked like monkeys, as the photographers depicted us. Each Maasai person has a name and disserves a respectful recognition and representation just as a westerner would do. 

We are appealing for assistance from people from all walks of life to help us protect Maasai culture from disrespectful photographers. 

How you can help?

• Do not buy books with nude images of indigenous people

• Encourage your bookseller to buy books that are culturally sensitive to indigenous cultures

• Let the bookseller and photographer know that you care about the source where images came from

• Ask the photographer to show names of the persons s/he photographed

• Ask the photographer to respect the privacy of the individual, community, and culture

• Ask the photographer to respect the customs of indigenous people

• Write to the photographer and encourage her/him to give something back to the community in which s/he photographed

We are confident that your voice can make a difference. 

It is important to make clear that we are not opposed to ordinary and respectful photographers. A tourist, for example, is free to take family pictures, as s/he wish, so long as s/he has obtained a consent from the individual. 

Also, we are not opposed to learners who wish to understand the Maasai culture. In fact, we are glad to learn that people from all corners of the world are willing to learn about our culture.

What we are opposed to is commercial photography obtained without consent. 

We have a problem when our culture is inaccurately and irrespectively documented and represented. We are not animalistic, and we do not run around without clothes. This is not how we live and see ourselves. 

We respect other cultures and their way of life. As such, we expect the outside world to respect us. What might be accepted in your culture, might not be accepted in our culture. Cultural boundaries must be obeyed. Our culture must be represented in a respectful manner.

How do photographers raid Maasai Images? 

In many cases the photographers come in to the Maasai region accompanied by corrupt persons, officials, drivers, and tour guides, who collect bribes from the photographers.

Upon their arrival to our community, we often welcome them with open arms, and offer them our best hospitality and accommodation.

At the end of his/ her visit, the photographer would turn around and spear us from the back and exploit our kindness.

It is unfortunate to see photographers misusing our noble generosity.

Maasai Association © All rights reserved

Graphic design, data architecture, technical implementation by Ole Maimai,


Important to know

Everyone is welcomed to Maasailand but we want people to be respectiful to our people, traditions and culture.

Maasai people are not opposed to all kind of photography. They are opposed to commercial photography obtained without consent. 

When you publish a book, for example, full of Maasai images, it is important to identify the people by their names, and remember to give some thing back to the community.

Maasai generosity should be honored and not exploited for financial gain.