Maasai warrior Christian dancers set for Norfolk
The tribal chants and dance of Kenya's Osiligi Maasai Warriors have held UK audiences spellbound during 14 tours and now they are returning to Norfolk on 26 September. Sandie Shirley reports.
The African troupe of devout Christians who have performed for royalty will showcase their talent at Glen Lodge Golf Club, Bawburgh, during a charity ball run by the Mudeka Foundation.
Over 2000 national performances have brought new and growing prosperity to the troupe's poor drought-hit community in Olepolos. A school, clinic, church and orphanage have been built thanks to Suffolk pensioner, John Curtin, who forfeited retirement to put his Christian faith to work to inspire a legacy of giving through organised tours including Wymondham Abbey and Cromer parish church last year.
The retired theatre producer says he has a very simple Christian outlook: "I love people - love is what it is all about and God is love."
He adds: "The charity, Osiligi Charity Projects, which was formed as a result of the tours, has been amazing, providing generous support for the building projects and 160 child sponsorships."
John first visited the Kenyan troupe in 2002 to follow-up a request to organise a tour at the Suffolk school where he worked part-time. He was impressed by their rhythm and harmony despite no musical training and moved with compassion by their poverty. Before long he retired and became a tireless campaigner and later overseeing a charity to ease their plight.
The on-going building projects have also brought clean water and solar heating to the community and this year the money will further an orphanage and safe house as well as child sponsorships.
During John's initial visit to Olepolos, the destitute community lived in huts made of cow dung, urine, mud and straw, lit by dangerous kerosene lamps. "They walked five kilometres twice a day to get water from a stagnant pool that was used by all the local animals. Their 'church' was an acacia tree. Their 'school' was a series of dilapidated buildings and the children had almost no text or exercise books," he said.
Organising the annual tours from August to October is a huge task and last year John’s wife died two weeks before the tour began. Despite numerous calls for support, John continues to handle the bulk of the work alone, but since 2009 Jim Wilkie has organised the tour in Scotland, Cumbria and the North East.
This year John has organised 107 engagements and is expected to speak 120 times. Shortly after the troupe's return, he will begin bookings for 20016. "I could not survive without my faith but it is satisfying to see what has been achieved," he said.
Every member of the seven-strong troupe supports a large family so their earnings, including handicraft sales, are widely distributed. The members often rotate, allowing more of the community to benefit.
"There is a long list of people who want to come, but three of the present performers have been to the UK at least eight times. Each stunning performance is an unforgettable experience,” said John. “Since there are no Play Stations or other technological temptations, they learn to sing, move and jump, just like they live - in perfect harmony!
"They are humble and gentle and loyalty and friendship are everything to the Maasai. When they arrive on tour I am with them almost continually and over time they have never had an argument. They are great team players!"
Polygamy is common among the Maasai tribe, explains John, but as Christians this, together with female circumcision, is unacceptable to the troupe.
"They pray a lot and often when we get home late at night. Their faith carries them through poverty, as it does in many third world countries.
"They love the comfortable, UK accommodation, with hot showers, electricity, satellite TV and Kentucky Fried Chicken. They enjoy these the night before they go home yet the day they return it is as if the tour never happened. No-one has been tempted to leave their community to live in Nairobi, 30 miles away, however tough life is. Despite all our comforts they believe we have somehow succumbed to 'want' that rules our lives.
"Together with their families they have no mains electricity, suffer repetitive droughts but always do so with a smile on their faces, whatever the adversity and this, together with their love of life, must teach us all a valuable lesson."
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Pictured above are the Maasai Warriors outside Wymondham Abbey during last year's performance.