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Jumping for joy at Maasai visit

An African tribe demonstrated traditional songs and dances - including its famous leaping - at Glasgow schools

An African tribe demonstrated traditional songs and dances - including its famous leaping - at Glasgow schools

It is not every day you get the chance to jump with the Maasai, but that is what pupils have been doing this month, during a tour of Scotland by an eight-strong troupe of Maasai from Kenya.

The six warrior men and two women have visited the UK for the past three years, raising funds for their families and community by performing tribal songs and dances, wearing their distinctive traditional costumes.

This year, the troupe has been offering schools an interactive performance with pupils getting the chance to jump with the warriors and learn more about their culture.

With the Commonwealth Games being staged in Glasgow in 2014, the council's development officer for international education, Lesley Atkins, decided a visit from the Maasai was an opportunity many schools would not want to miss.

A performance costs #163;350, but by organising most of the visits in clusters - with a secondary school playing host to nearby primaries - and applying for funding from various sources, the price per school was kept to around #163;50.

By the time their Scottish tour ends, the Maasai will have spent seven days in Glasgow, visiting a total of 40 primary, secondary and special needs schools, as well as the city's Gaelic school where the similarities between Gaelic mouth music and Maasai singing will be noted.

The troupe was given an official welcome last week at a special performance in the Glasgow Film Theatre, attended by seven schools.

"International education is one of the great opportunities for young people in Scotland today, helping them to flourish in this new and changing world," said Lesley Atkins, opening the event.

"The Maasai warrior troupe from Kenya have been in Glasgow schools, thrilling and exciting young people with their performance which gives us all an insight into life in Kenya and helps us to understand their culture and community."

Then the Maasai came in, their distinctive singing making a muted, high-pitched rasping sound; their costumes decorated with spangles that shimmered and jingled softly as they moved.

The men were carrying spears and shields - and a microphone; the women wore beaded collars, and began their performance with a song asking God to give them children. The men then performed a lion-killing song ("but we don't kill lions now because they are an attraction for tourists").

All the troupe spoke English but the warrior known as Simon did most of the talking, explaining, as he introduced a Maasai gospel song, that the majority of Maasai are Christian, thanks to the efforts of a Scottish missionary long ago.

Forming a semi-circle, the men began a display of the jumping for which the Maasai have become famous. But first, Simon went into the audience and chose pupils and adults to join them. One teenage girl looked mortified at having been selected but, along with the other pupils, she rose (literally) to the occasion.

There was enthusiastic applause for each of the jumpers, Maasai and Scottish, as well as for the pupil who volunteered to give the troupe a short demonstration of Scottish country dancing.

Two pupils from Dalmarnock Primary told the audience how much they had enjoyed their school's visit from the Maasai the previous week. It had been particularly appropriate for Dalmarnock, said headteacher Nancy Clunie, because international education was at the core of their curriculum, and the Commonwealth Games Village was being built in their area.

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