A line of Maasai warriors gathers in the distance, away from the crowd, their warrior shouts punctuating the still air. Grunts follow chants and the pounding of feet, harmony, and heartbeats. They move forward not as 12 men, but as one.
One flow, one rhythm, one movement forward.
There are no drums, only voices as instruments and rhythm. As the men get closer, the volume of their chants rise, the intensity of their movement increases, converging into steady rhythm. Up, bend, forward. Up, bend, forward. A human pulse, a human beat that reaches into one’s bones even as it traverses the open air.
As the men approach the crowd inside the circle of the corral, young women launch into song. Two men, now in the centre of the circle, jump straight up, each time higher than before. As energy flows into and through the corral, the men circle back, offering their own chant in return, a sort of call and response, their voices growing in volume and pitch. This is the essence of the signature Maasai adamu, or jumping dance.
A rising beat, sweeping emotion into its path. A universal rhythm. To witness the gathering of Maasai from across villages in northern Tanzania was a stunning experience — visual, cultural, and human. For the Maasai, theirs was a celebration to mark the rite of passage, to welcome young men to the next stage of their lives.
Song and dance binds us together, from all corners of the globe. Singing, dancing — those are things we all do and have been doing since we first walked the earth. But how and why each culture sings and dances carries a stamp of uniqueness, telling so many stories about the culture, history, and beliefs of its people.
The differences — and the underlying similarities — demonstrate the living beauty of our world’s shared diversity.
Importance of ceremony in Maasai culture
For the Maasai, important rites of passage in life are marked by ceremonies filled with song and dance. Boys are divided into age groups and throughout their life are identified with and by those stages. As they move from one stage, there’s a rhythm and movement to welcome them into the next step of their lives.
Song-and-dance-filled Maasai celebrations last for days on end, and offer an opportunity to bring people together and assemble members of the different clans from around the region. These gatherings are among the ways the Maasai preserve their social fabric and continue the traditional culture in the face of external pressures and societal evolution.
The story behind adamu, the jumping dance
Many travellers to Tanzania and Kenya visit a Maasai village and have the opportunity to take part in the adamu, the dance affectionately referred to as the “jumping dance.” It’s an impressive dance, not only for its energy but also for its deceptively simple appearance. Watch the Maasai do it; they make it look so easy. When it’s your turn, you realize it’s much harder than it looks. Everyone has a good laugh, including the Maasai.
The adamu appears rudimentary in its movement, but carries deeper meaning and reason. It's a sort of mating dance, a way for a young Maasai man who has just become a warrior to demonstrate his strength and attract a bride.
Traditionally, the adamu takes place during the Eunoto ceremony that marks the transition of morani (junior warriors) becoming senior warriors — after the morani live up to 10 years together in an emanyatta (warrior’s camp) away from their home villages. During this time, they learn how to take care of their animals, protect their family, and carry the obligations of a Maasai warrior.
The Eunoto not only marks a change in a warrior’s status, but also makes him eligible for marriage. The circle that the young warriors gather in for adamu, allows each warrior to demonstrate his strength and skills to attract a bride. They have continually practiced these moves since they were young, in a sort of life-arcing preparation for this moment.
Two men enter the centre and begin to jump, heels never touching the ground, straight into the air as high as they can go. Once a warrior achieves his maximum height and begins to tire, which is usually after a couple of jumps, he exits and two other men take the centre. The more graceful and higher the jump, the more appealing the warrior is to the eligible women watching.
All the while, the warriors forming the circle sing, matching the pitch and volume of their voices to the height of their leaps. The crescendo of peer pressure encourages the men to go even higher. The mothers of the warriors sing, too — to celebrate the bravery and strength of their sons.
In this way, the energy of the song feeds the dance, and the energy of the dance feeds the song.
The young women, dressed in their most elaborate costumes, don’t remain passive in this mating game. They sing and dance as a manner of flirting, to get closer to the young warriors. In another sort of dating ritual, the young men will form a line, then chant, grunt, and thrust forward with their lower bodies. The young women will stand in front of them, respond with their own chant, and respond and move in kind. They never touch the men, indicating only through movement if they are interested.
The Eunato can last up to 10 days, ending with the morani shaving off his long hair and braids as a sign that he is now a senior warrior ready for the commitment of marriage, family, and community. The idea? This ceremonial song and dance will eventually lead to the next important celebration: marriage.
And that is how these ceremonies, filled with singing and dancing, mark the stages of life, and the passage from one to the next. If any of this sounds vaguely familiar in its human pattern, I suspect it’s not by chance. The greatest demonstrations of culture, including the Maasai adamu, are often as much a celebration of uniqueness as they are a highlight of our shared humanity.
G Adventures runs a number of departures in East Africa encompassing a wide range of departure dates and activities to cater to different tastes. We’re thrilled at the prospect of showing you this big blue planet of ours — check out our small group trips here.