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My Shuka Friend

Posted on September 27, 2016 at 8:00 PM

Shuka cloth, othewise known as the “African blanket,” is worn by the Maasai people of East Africa. You've most likely seen it in photos or even in person. It's predominantly red with plaid containing blue, black yellow and white.

It’s durable and warm and meant to protect the Maasai from the harsh weather and terrain of the savannah as these nomadic warriors hunt for food and spend weeks in the wild. They also raise goats and cattle for their milk and blood, which supplements their diet, and use their livestock for trade.

Their traditions are some of the most visible we have the priviledge to observe and their culture and customs some of the most enduring. There are roughly 1.5 million in and around the Masai Mara National Reserve of Kenya, which is where I had the pleasure of meeting my first tribe.

However, later in my travels, I was even more fortunate to visit a village that was unprepared for guests and ungroomed for tourists. It will forever be one of the most memorable moments in my life. On the way to the village, we stopped at a roadside stand for water and I picked up a Shuka since I knew it was made and sold locally. 

While at the village I thought about trading my new Shuka with someone in the tribe so that they could have something new while I had something authentically worn and used (this has become somewhat of a tradition of mine in my travels). I spoke to the tribe's only English speaker and asked if anyone would be offended by a trade. She assured me it was welcome and all I had to do was pick out the person I wanted to trade with.

This photo is of my Shuka trade. Needless to say, I had to pack my "new" Shuka in lots of ziplock bags and wash it many, many times when I got home. It still smells "authentic" with a touch of campfire smoke, but the memory is priceless. 

I often think of my Shuka friend and the stories he may have told of his odd experience with an American, but I never worry that the exchange was not respectful or even unwelcome. The day in that village was filled with love and friendship and mutual curiousity. 

My hope is that we will always be respectful of those with whom we share the world, and that our reputation as Americans will endure the current administration and remain one of gracious exceptance and tolerance.








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