Through Maasailand

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Introduction to the Project

The tribes who occupy East Africa have existed in harmony with the environment for many thousands of years, but the 1890’s brought colonial influence from the Germans and the British.

The changes these influences brought have had a direct effect on land use, population growth, and the East African wildlife. Indigenous cultures are now forced to seek alternative methods of subsistence. Huge tracts of pastoral land are being lost to smallholding cultivation, and wildlife migratory routes are diminishing. All of this has had a massive impact on the remaining wild areas, leaving them with a non sustainable level of wildlife population.

In the belief that an integral process in understanding and saving the environment is fundamental education, I intend to illustrate these impacts through a collection of photographs and the making of a video documentary. The aim of this educational work will be to help everyone by bringing us closer to realising that one man’s environment is not just his responsibility, but that of us all.

My mechanism for this is to retrace the route of an early explorer, Joseph Thomson, who was commissioned by the Royal Geographical Society to find a route from the East African coast to the great Lake Victoria Nyanza in the central highlands. I will make a comparison of East Africa as it was in 1883, and how it is in 2007 using Thomson’s own account of his journey, “Through Masailand”. It was published in 1885 and describes in detail the terrain he crossed, the tribes he met as well as the flora and fauna he observed.

Originally my project had been limited in concept to following Thomson’s foot steps; photographng the people, the wildlife I met and the landscapes I passed through. In addition I wanted to retake some of his own photographs which Thomson describes, which sadly appear not to have survived the passage of time. However, as my research progressed and intensified, it occurred to me that there seemed a very important educational message to be told as well, so the project has escalated into making a video documentary.

Since Thomson travelled through this land, it has undergone massive changes. The primordial balance was tipped by his journey and the result has been an unprecedented human population explosion whilst conversely wild life population has diminished to less than ten percent. This unique window of time provides ample examples of ecological issues, positive and negative, from which a clear understanding of the environment can be observed. Certain ideologies have been implemented, and over time these have either failed or succeeded. In essence there are lessons to be illustrated and learned here that could have a wider message for all of us. By showing a wide range of ecological and sociological situations along this journey I can demonstrate some fundamental aspects of conservation and utilisation to benefit all generations of every culture.