Maasai on the Lawn

Bruner, E.M. and Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, B. (1994) Maasai on the Lawn: Tourist Realism in East Africa. Cultural Anthropology 9(4).

This article really tries to show the multiple sides of constructing tourism (as a theatrical event). It’s a tourist production of “semiotic of attraction”.

435-  “Tourism gives tribalism and colonialism a second life by bringing them back as representations of themselves and circulating them within an economy of performance. Mass tourism routinely recycles dying industries, dead sites, past colonial relations, and abandoned ethnographic tropes to produce industrial parks, living historical villages, and enactments like Mayers Ranch”

436- “We ask: What is being produced here and how? How did the site arise historically? How is it staged, who has artistic control, and how does the performance develop in space and time? How is the production organized in social and economic terms, and who gets what from the event? As the Maasai and Samburu, the tourists, and the Mayers do not experience the site in the same way, we ask, what does the event say and what does it mean to its varied producers and audiences? We argue that close attention to the tourist production itself-to the performance-holds clues to the nature of Mayers Ranchas a tourist commodity and to its success within Kenya’s tourism industry.” (436)

Immersed in a total environment, tourists move through the site in order to experience it. This is experience theater, an imaginary space into which tourists enter and through which they negotiate a physical and conceptual path. Mayers Ranch and tourism more generally are built on environmental and improvisational principle

Nature is a social construction that plays on imaginaries ; “As Adorno states, “Natural beauty is an ideological notion because it offers mediatedness in the guise of immediacy” (1984:101). EastAfrican landscape has long been coded in ways that remove it from human agency.” Safaris and gardens play on the roles played between primitives and primates in post-colonial thoughts.

Photography serves a mediator between the Mayers Ranch and larger East African tourism. “In such tourist discourse, landscape is staged from a distance. This is the idiom of the commanding view. Animals and people, however, are best watched "close-up," a term that evokes the rangefinder on a gun pointed at a target, as well as the camera” (440). “Photography, a central part of the Mayers scene, provides another source of income for the Maasai”…“if the tourists ask the Maasai to pose for a group picture that includes members of the tour group or the tourist’s family, then the Maasai may receive a tip”.

There is a handout that goes along with the ranch that embodies ethnographic writing:

“The handout-as well as our account-uses the language of ethnography to describe the Maasai age-set system. This almost clinical approach to recording symbols of masculinity-warfare and hunting, fierceness and bravery, hair decorations and sexual behavior-is cast in the third person and refers to the normativepractices of “the” “Maasai”.”

The Maasai dance the same dance as in their villages except at different times.

“One of the major predicaments is that so many of the traditional activities of the Maasai are now against the law. And it is precisely those illegal activities that are most appealing to tourists and that are featured at Mayers.”

“Tourism is a safe place for practices that are contested in other spheres, for in tourism they function in a privileged representational economy.”

Tourists: “They were middle class or professional, older, and many were retired.” Many came on packaged tours.

449-“Immersed in a total environment, tourists move through the site in order to experience it. This is experience theater, an imaginary space into which tourists enter and through which they negotiate a physical and conceptual path.”


Site Experience for Visitor/Site as Microcosm for Post-Independence Kenya: “Combining the wild and the civilized, the site sets itself apart from many other stops on the itinerary by its tasteful and personal style, its small scale, and its fastidious attention to detail. Visitors feel like exclusive guests in the private homes of both the Maasai and the Mayers” (442). “The Maasai and the Mayers, tribalism and colonialism. What an unlikely pairing in a postindependence Kenya that was to see the end of colonial rule and the creation of a new nation”

456- The master paradigm of Mayers Ranch is the unresolved tension tribal resistance and colonial containment.

“Thus, both the Maasai and the Mayers get essentially the same thing from tourism-the ability to maintain a contested, some might say anachronistic and even reactionary, lifestyle in contemporary Kenya, a lifestyle at once signified and subsidized by the tourist production. The Maasai and the Mayers are in business together.”

There is a script to follow for the performance of this space. 


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