The Maasai (also Masai) are a Nilotic ethnic group of semi-nomadic people located in Kenya and northern Tanzania. Due to their distinctive customs and dress and residence near the many game parks of East Africa, they are among the most well known of African ethnic groups. They speak Maa a member of the Nilo-Saharan language family that is related to Dinka and Nuer, and are also educated in the official languages of Kenya and Tanzania: Swahili and English. The Maasai population has been variously estimated as 377,089 from the 1989 Census or as 453,000 language speakers in Kenya in 1994 and 430,000 in Tanzania in 1993 with a total estimated as "approaching 900,000”. Estimates of the respective Maasai populations in both countries are complicated by the remote locations of many villages, and their semi-nomadic nature.
Although the Tanzanian and Kenyan governments have instituted programs to encourage the Maasai to abandon their traditional semi-nomadic lifestyle, the people have continued their age-old customs. Recently, Oxfam has claimed that the lifestyle of the Maasai should be embraced as a response to climate change because of their ability to farm in deserts and scrublands. But while the Maasai run cattle farms, they invade the habitats of the endangered lions in Kenya. As of 2010, there are only about 2000 lions left in Kenya and at the rate the Maasai warriors kill them, the lions in Kenya could be gone within two years.
Maasai society is strongly patriarchal in nature, with elder men, sometimes joined by retired elders, deciding most major matters for each Maasai group. A full body of oral law covers many aspects of behavior. Formal execution is unknown, and normally payment in cattle will settle matters. An out of court process called 'amitu', 'to make peace', or 'arop', which involves a substantial apology, is also practiced. The Maasai are monotheistic, and they call God Enkai or Engai. Engai is a single deity with a dual nature: Engai Narok (Black God) is benevolent, and Engai Nanyokie (Red God) is vengeful. The "Mountain of God", Ol Doinyo Lengai, is located in northernmost Tanzania. The central human figure in the Maasai religious system is the laibon who may be involved in: shamanistic healing, divination and prophecy, ensuring success in war or adequate rainfall. Whatever power an individual laibon had was a function of personality rather than position. Many Maasai have become Christian, and to a lesser extent, Muslim. The Maasai are known for their intricate jewelry.