The Annual Maasai Olympics

For centuries, the Maasai of East Africa practiced a traditional rite of passage to manhood… the hunting and killing of a lion. Today, the hunt is for medals, not animals, and it takes place at what has become the Maasai Olympics.

Maasai Olympics patron, David Rudisha
Maasai Olympics patron, David Rudisha

A conservation program like no other, this annual event has been held in Kenya since 2012, showcasing traditional Maasai tribal skills, while also protecting endangered animals.

A traditional part of Maasai culture for centuries, the hunt for a lion was long considered a way for men to prove their bravery, establish themselves as potential leaders, and perhaps most importantly, impress women.

In the 21st century, a growing population with changing attitudes about Kenya’s wildlife prompted the Menye Layiok, or cultural fathers, and Big Life Foundation to establish the Maasai Olympics. The event has still grown to be one of Kenya’s greatest celebrations of Maasai culture.

Inspired by traditional hunting practices, events include 200m and 800m springs, a 5km run, high jumping (Maasai style, of course!), and javelin throwing. Competitors also throw a traditional hunting club known as the rungu in a contest that’s all about accuracy, not distance.

The Maasai tribe inhabit parts of southern Kenya and northern Tanzania, and are recognized as one of the most iconic tribes in Africa. Communities in six different regions hold individual competitions before meeting at the Maasai Olympics each December.

While the 2020 edition has been postponed due to COVID-19, it will return in 2021.

Click here to see an article by David Mack which features some incredible photos taken at the Maasai Olympics, held on December 13, 2014.

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Moira Smith
Moira Smith

General Manager of Africa & Middle East — South African-born Moira has lived in San Francisco and Toronto, but her travel map includes over 50 countries. Her heart still swings toward all things African, particularly Zambia’s Lower Zambezi National Park, the Grumeti Reserves in Tanzania, and Botswana’s Okavango Delta. Her most treasured attributes are a great sense of adventure and a lousy sense of direction, which have combined to lead her to some wonderful travel memories and local people.

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