Maasai Cricket Warriors bring change one game at a time

2015-08-27 12:59
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PICS: Kenyan cricketers go traditional

The Maasai Cricket Warriors play cricket in their traditional clothes in order to spread social messages that are affecting their community. View pics of the cricketers here.

Johannesburg - The sound of leather on bat can be heard at the Zoo Lake Sports Club in central Johannesburg, with a fielder in hot pursuit of the ball as it speeds to the boundary. This particular fielder however, and the team he plays for, are unique for reasons beyond the game of cricket itself.

"The Maasai Cricket Warriors is the warriors' team. We play cricket and we play with our traditional clothes," captain Sonyanga Ole Ngais told News24 prior to them squaring off against local teams in two Last Man Stands (LMS) friendlies.

"We use it as a tool to spread social messages that are affecting our community."

Ngais says there are good parts and some not-so-good parts of Maasai culture, in particular the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM), also known as female circumcision.

The Maasai Cricket Warriors have earned a reputation for trying to educate their communities on the dangers of female circumcision.

"At the same time we are trying to promote a healthy living among the youth. We are trying to educate about FGM and we realise that it is only through cricket, or maybe through sport, especially through cricket, because that is what we are specialising in."

Using cricket to raise awareness

Cricket was first introduced to the team in 2007, when the game came to their home region of Laikipia, north of Mount Kenya in Kenya.

According to Ngais, that was when the Warriors' got their passion and love for the game.

"That is how the Maasai Cricket Warriors was formed and when it was formed, we realised that we live in a society where there's a lot of challenges and it's only the youth who can try and change our society, and live the good part of the culture. That's why we play cricket," he says.

"The clothing is part of our culture. We want to tell people we can play cricket in traditional clothes and since we are trying to educate about FGM, it's not like we are trying to get away from our culture."

Ngais says in society, there is a lot of gender disparity and the Warriors realised that it was only they who could step forward, using cricket as their platform.

The Warriors go to schools to educate students about FGM, along with their other causes, being HIV and AIDS awareness, gender discrimination, alcohol and substance abuse, environmental conservation, contributing to community building and local development.

Deeply rooted in Maasai culture

The toughest challenge facing the Warriors regarding FGM is trying to separate people from a practice that has been a part of Maasai culture for some time.

"Where we live in our society, in the Maasai society, FGM is among them and young girls. It's part of the culture since time immemorial. Trying to separate people and their practices is very hard. We are now going to them and trying to tell them and show them this thing is not important," Ngais says.

"FGM is so deeply rooted in the Maasai culture, so that is one of the problems. When you try to spread the message and tell them that FGM is not important, it's very hard. That's one of the challenges we face but at least, slowly, they are now trying to accept."

He notes that FGM is not just practiced among the Maasai, but also in South Africa, and all over the world.

"FGM is everywhere but at least now people are accepting, little by little. They are changing."

The first time the team left Kenya was to South Africa in 2012, when they were invited by Last Man Stands to take part in its World Championships in Cape Town.

A Maasai warrior playing a game of cricket. (Photo: Eugenio Menezes)

Bjorn Briggs, co-founder of LMS, told News24 the Warriors contacted them about a South African tour because they had been going for a while but had not played much cricket against foreign teams.

"LMS is about taking the game to new people and new parts of the world so that was really a great fit between the two organisations," he said.

"That went really well and they came down, they had a blast, they added so much colour and vibe to the event, and aside from all the great stuff that they do, it was really a pleasure having them."

The Maasai Cricket Warriors participated at the next LMS World Championships in London in 2013, where they met film director Barney Douglas.

He ended up working with the team to produce a documentary called 'Warriors' centred on the team's origins and their fight against FGM. The film was released in the UK in July this year, and is being released elsewhere, including South Africa.

Spreading the word

"They're spreading the word how prevalent it is in their area and why it is not great, which is always something that we want to get involved with, help them, highlight it, and give them a platform to speak not only through the documentary," Briggs said.

The team were also involved in the Last Male Stands tournament run by LMS in Kenya this year, which raises awareness about rhino poaching and the handful of northern white rhinos left in the world, including a single male.

Briggs says it will likely become an annual event, something LMS hopes to work closely with the Warriors on.

Ngais says the Warriors have a squad of over 24 young men at present, as not all team members can travel at the same time due to either work or academic commitments. The team trains twice a week and on weekends. According to Briggs, the Warriors improved markedly from the first and second times he saw them.

Ngais says the team are a non-profit group, and depend "on our friends all over the world".

"They enable us to travel. LMS is one of the big sponsors for us. We are trying to play cricket in a different way and we love cricket."

Of the two friendlies the Maasai Cricket Warriors played at Zoo Lake, they lost the first in a nail biter by a measly 10 runs.

The second friendly saw the Warriors lose by a wider margin, but in the grand scheme of things, no matter who the Warriors play, be it a local club side or provincial team, they will never find themselves on the losing side.

To see pictures of the Maasai Cricket Warriors in action, click here.

Read more on:    johannesburg  |  good news
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