The Massai are one of Africa’s most famous ethnic groups. Their recognizable red attire, the Massai shuka makes them to one of the most sought-after people of Kenya and Tanzania. The tribe’s traditional wear is not only an important element of the East African tourism industry but also repeatedly copied by multinational brands such as Louis Vuitton, Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein and Jaguar Land Rover.
The Massai people are pastoral nomads, living in the Serengeti Plains of Kenya and Tanzania whose wealth, livelihood, and religion all revolve around their cattle. The shuka is usually worn by the young Massai warriors. The shuka is a basic piece of fabric that can be worn in a variety of ways. Usually it is tied over each shoulder with a third draped over the top. It was initially made out of animal skin, mostly cow hide that was then dyed with the red earth. Nowadays the main material used to make the shuka is cotton. The most common colour is a bright red, but blue, purple and orange shukas are also used by Massai men. The bright colours stand out in the dry grasslands in which the Massai live – hardly camouflage yet it affords them protection from predators. When lions see someone wearing a brightly coloured shuka walking across the plains they tend to hightail it in the other direction. Lions are one of the few wild animals to fear the Massai who never hunt wild animals to eat them. It is a taboo in their culture to eat wildlife. The Massai have co-existed with local wildlife for a long time without harming them.