Getting the opportunity to go on an African safari while in Kenya shooting for Sports Illustrated Swimsuit 2019 was truly life changing! The experience was made even more incredible thanks to our guide, Rotiken Raphael Saitoti, also known as Raffy.
Not only is the 29-year-old guide so friendly and professional, but he is also very knowledgeable and passionate about the wildlife in Africa. Not to mention, he has a great sense of humor! If you’re looking for the perfect safari experience, Raffy should be your go-to guide!
With Raffy, you’ll make memories to last a lifetime! We caught up with our favorite guide to discuss everything from his animal to what it was like growing up in Kenya!
How long have you worked as a guide at Ol Seki?
I started working at Ol Seki Mara Camp in 2011.
How did you become a guide for Ol Seki?
After my high school, I joined Koiyaki Guiding School, which has been great to a good number of local people. At the school we were sent to different camps and lodges for internships, which is when I was lucky to join Ol Seki for my internship. They wanted me back at the camp after college, and that’s how I found myself at Ol Seki.
Where does your family live?
My family live in the Ngosuani village in the Mara adjacent to the Mara North conservancy, which is 45 mins drive from the camp.
Can you tell us a little bit about the villages in the Massai Mara?
The villages in the Mara vary from size depending on the number of people and the number of families. Most of this villages are made up of one family, and in this case, it means all women will be married out of this villages to other villages. Parents organize marriages here.
Who are the Massai people? What is their history?
Maasai people are one of the Nilotic group of people, not a big tribe in Kenya, but well known for preserving their culture for a long period of time and the ability to co-exist with wild animals. These people originally came from the north around Ethiopia, and they have been pushed down to where they are now. Some went to northern Tanzania so they have cousins and in-laws in Tanzania. They are livestock keepers and live on domestic products only, like milk and meat.
What is Massai culture?
Maasai culture is made up of lots of different activities that you undergo from childhood to adulthood. Such stages include circumcision, which is a must for both boys and girls. This was a mark of childhood. They have naming ceremonies as well and keeping livestock is paramount to any Maasai.
When do the men become warriors and what do they do for work?
Men become warriors immediately after circumcision. During this period warriors of same age will leave their villages for a long period of time sometimes for four years. They will be given instructions by their elders on what to do every day. Hunting of lions is one of the activities they perform, as well as cattle rustling. They believe they originally came from heaven with cows, so every cow they see owned by a different tribe, they think was stolen from their ancestors. So being a warrior is the toughest stage one can go through. Many actually lose their lives at this stage.
What kind of animals do the men tend to?
Men tend to all domestic animals, including cows, goats and sheep and donkeys for transportation. They will also keep chicken, not to eat, but for helping to get rid of bugs and ticks in cows.
What is the significance of the queen? What is her role in the village?
Because Maasai are polygamous, they will someone to be in charge of other women. So the work of the queen is to make rules on what to do every day for the village, like where to go to collect firewood, water and making sure everything in the village is going smoothly when men are away with their animals.
What kind of beadwork and things do the women work on during the day?
The women make beautiful bracelets and necklaces, as well as wedding necklaces, which only a very well-trained woman can do.
What kinds of things are sold at a Maasai shop?
The women sell mostly wood carvings which is animals and lots of beadwork.
How are Maasai houses made?
Maasai homes are made up of a mixture of cow dung and soil. The houses are built by women.
What do the colorful blankets and clothing that the Maasai women wear represent?
The bright colors are for beauty. Men wear red to warn the lions against attacking their cows.
What does the Maasai welcome song signify?
The song is a sign of being happy. This song was the same song they used to sing to warriors after going out to kill lions or steal cows from other tribes. So when they see them come, they sing this song as a sign of relief and being happy that their boys survived.
Can you tell us a little bit about the Maasai people culture, traditions, lifestyle, warrior traditions, and differences between men and women?
The traditional Maasai lifestyle concentrates on cattle, which make up the primary source of food. Amongst the Maasai and several other African ethnic groups, the measure of a man’s wealth is in terms of children and cattle. So the more the better! A man who has many cattle but not many children is considered to be poor and vice versa. A Maasai myth says that God gave them all the cattle on earth, resulting in the belief that rustling from other tribes is a matter of claiming what is rightfully theirs, a practice that has now become much less common.
Can you tell us a little bit about what it is like growing up as a Massai?
Growing up as a Maasai is really tough and difficult. You are required to hunt lions and steal cows to give you a good status and earn you a wife. Women have to collect water from miles away for their mother's houses. Boys herd cows all day long, where there's no eating or drinking because you spend you entire day in the bush.
Have you even come uncomfortably close to a hippo or lion? Have you ever felt scared?
I have been very close many times and actually come across many dangerous animals, including big deadly snakes, like mambas and cobras. You feel like the end of your life is near if one of these animals comes across you. The worst of all is a buffalo, as they can ambush you and they can be very fast. Lions are the worst when they are hungry and decide to fight over your lovely cows. I have experienced this several times and it's not a good experience. I prefer driving than keeping cows safe from lions.
Tell us a little bit about the hippos? Are they dangerous?
Hippos are dangerous. These creatures need lots of grass and at night a hippo can travel to up to 15km in search of grass. They are purely grazers, so in the dry season, hippos can easily be succumbed by the dry season as they can't browse like other animals. So every dry season, we lose lots of hippos here in the Mara. They can be dangerous if they come across you on land.
What animals will I see in Ol Seki, Kenya?
You will see lots of different species of antelopes, all big cats that you would find in Africa, and about 500 species of different birds. We hold almost half of the population of birds we have in Kenya. Kenya has around 1,110 different species of birds.
What is the Maasai Mara National Reserve?
The Maasai Mara national reserve is a community land that has been set aside for protecting wildlife. It is 1,520 square kilometers and it was created way back in 1950s. It's governed by the local government and so it's more of a public area where lots of tourist go for the annual migration of wildebeests.
Which animal are the most difficult to spot?
Leopards and rhinos are the hardest animals to spot.
Which animals on safari will get really close to the safari vehicles?
Zebras, giraffes, and wildebeests will get very close to the safari trucks.
Can any of the animals on safari see us?
No animal can see us as humans unless you get out of the truck.
Which is your favorite animal and why?
I love leopards. Their patience pays off for them while hunting. A leopard, from my experience, can stock a prey for two hours and is always almost 100% successful. Leopards’ ability to climb trees with prey thrice their body weight is impressive.
Why is it so special to be a Maasai?
We are the only people well known for still living their traditional life and am really proud of it, despite most people thinking that we are just crazy the way we do some other activities. I love being a Maasai.