Who owns the Maasai 'brand'?

Imagine a Maasai warrior, or a Maasai woman adorned with beads - it’s one of the most powerful images of tribal Africa. Dozens of companies use it to sell products - but Maasai elders are now considering seeking protection for their “brand”.

Dressed in smart white checked shirt and grey sweater, you’d hardly know Isaac ole Tialolo is Maasai.

The large round holes in his ears - where his jewellery sometimes sits - might be a clue, though.

Isaac is a Maasai leader and elder. Back home in the mountains near Naivasha, in southern Kenya, he lives a semi-nomadic life, herding sheep, goats, and - most importantly - cattle.

But Isaac is also chair of a new organisation, the Maasai Intellectual Property Initiative, and it’s a project that’s beginning to take him around the world - including, most recently, London.

"We all know that we have been exploited by people who just come around, take our pictures and benefit from it," he says.

"We have been exploited by so many things you cannot imagine."

Crunch time for Isaac came about 20 years ago, when a tourist took a photo of him, without asking permission - something the Maasai, are particularly sensitive about.

"We believed that if somebody takes your photograph, he has already taken your blood," he explains.

Isaac was so furious that he smashed the tourist’s camera.

Twenty years later, he is mild-mannered and impeccably turned out - but equally passionate about what he sees as the use, and abuse, of his culture.

"I think people need to understand the culture of the others and respect it," he says.

"You should not use it to your own benefit, leaving the community - or the owner of the culture - without anything."

"If you just take what belongs to somebody, and go and display it and have your fortune, then it is very wrong. It is very wrong," he says.

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    I feel very lucky to have a piece of Maasai jewellery, which I bought directly from the Maasai woman who made it. If...
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    The best way to curb cultural misappropriation is to fight the transgressors using their vocabulary, in this instance,...
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  20. ktobermanns reblogged this from intimatehistory and added:
    Interesting as hell.
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    We in the fast living, modern, globalised and corporatised world live in a consumerist culture and see culture as...
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    This reminds me of a paper I wrote about how Federal intellectual property law in America has evolved to respond to the...
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