sheila sobchik

Cal Poly students had a unique chance to gain insight into a different way of herding when Maasai warrior Samson Parashina visited campus on Tuesday.

Parashina – who prefers to be called Samson – has traveled to the United States from Southern Kenya, East Africa, to educate himself on resource and rangeland management.

“Because the tribe is growing and the accessible land is diminishing, we are challenged,” Parashina said. “Unless we can manage and conserve our land with its natural resources, we will not only lose the land, we will lose our culture.”

He spoke to students involved in the Escuela Enterprise project, sharing information about the Maasai cattle industry and how his people rely on the animals.

“Cattle is our wealth,” he said. “Cows are bartered to cover school fees, presented as a gift as part of the marriage ritual and their dung is used to build Maasai homes. Cows are a staple of Maasai life and serve as the measure of their economy and individual status.”

A single Maasai herder will lead 500 cows a 15-mile distance to graze, leaving at dawn and returning home with the sunset, he explained. Should a cattleman encounter a lion, a 10-foot spear serves as his best defense. And what if the spear is thrown and misses the approaching predator? “Oh, then they will attack you,” joked Parashina matter-of-factly.

The year-round Escuela Enterprise project gives students a chance to gain hands-on experience maintaining a 2,200-acre ranch with 250 head of cattle. The students meet in the classroom twice a week, and earn units for keeping up the working ranch.

They do the calving, breeding, marketing and management, and ultimately receive a portion of the profit based on the cattle farm’s productivity, explained animal science professor Joel Judge.

He acknowledged the benefit of Parashina’s talk, saying, “I think it is extremely important for our students to see (how herding is performed elsewhere) because I don’t think they always realize the opportunity that we have here.”

“I think it’s great to see from a different perspective,” he added.

Parashina is one of few Maasai who has received formal education. While his native language is the Maasai

“Maa,” he also speaks Swahili, English and Italian. He works as a wildlife tour guide with Campi ya Kanzi, a safari company offering Maasai-led walking safaris in Kenya (

“I have never been to such a big place,” he said of the United States. However, he seemed more taken with the size of Cal Poly cows than with that of the country – “I can only compare them with buffalo!” he laughed.

By educating himself in matters of conservation, Samson plans to work toward changing the consciousness of his tribe. “If there is no vegetation, there is no wildlife, no cows, therefore no land and no Maasai,” he said.

Although introducing these new ideas to his elders can be a challenge: “The old ways die hard. It’s up to the next generation to make a change,” he said.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *