Anthropologists have studied, and famous writers (Dinesen, Hemingway, Waugh) have been inspired by, the handsome, lion-hunting Maasai, who regard cows as currency and move with them across the borders of Kenya and Tanzania wherever there is rain and pasture. In this warmhearted portrait of a proud, tenacious people--one of the most compassionate books ever written about Africans--an American journalist describes her six-year-long friendship with a group of Maasai villagers, whose problems in adapting to or resisting new ways of life (the effects on the Maasai of alcohol, politics and modern education) she came to understand and respect. Of the three schoolboys she knew best, one went on to irrigation engineering, another became a smooth-talking salesman, and the third returned to his people. For Bentsen, the Maasai are survivors whose next generation may successfully make the leap to the ``new life.'' Photos not seen by PW. (Sept.)
Bensten began to spend time with ``real Maasai'' when her husband was assigned to Nairobi as a journalist and she started exploring outside the city. She befriended a few Maasai who became her ``informants'' and essentially began what anthropologists call ``fieldwork''; she attended Maasai ceremonies and inquired about their daily lives and practices; she recorded her observations. Bensten's queries inevitably led her to analyze the dilemmas of modernization, and the conflicts and turmoil of people who, recognizing the importance of their heritage, ``dream of a new life'' and of such Western commodities as modern education and Western medical practices. Yet the barriers to a new lifestyle are formidable: ``We are competing here with the life of belief.'' Though the style is not compelling, the book is enlivened by direct quotations from the Maasai and contains meaningful observation on people who have had to deal with conflicting ideologies that threaten the survival of their culture.-- Winnie Lambrecht, Smithsonian Inst., Washington, D.C.