women warriors

I’ve developed the habit of listening to BBC World News in the car rather than my usually country music and last week I heard a story that I just haven’t been able to shake. Mindy Budgor’s story has been following me around and making me feel like I really need to get out and starting making waves. Mindy, a California native, recently spent some time in Kenya earning her position as the first honorary Maasai female warrior. She spent several months eating only what she could kill, drinking blood and facing life-threatening situations, but she came out the other side stronger, happier and more at peace with her life.

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A little background information on the Maasai Mara area and the Maasai people: the Maasai Mara reserve is located in Kenya and is a protected area named for the Maasai people who number about 850,000 individuals and are a semi-nomadic group of people. The reserve is famous for its large population of savannah predators including lions, leopards and cheetah and is also part of the annual Great Migration to and from the Serengeti. The Maasai are an ancient group of people and are often what people imagine when they think of traditional African tribes. They are extremely patriarchal and very traditional relying heavily on the Maasai warriors and elder men for protection and guidance respectively. Traditionally only men have been able to become Maasai warriors because women are seen as weak and unable to cope with the rights of passage.

Mindy Budgor started a business in college that she eventually sold for enough money to buy her a condo, a BMW and keep her closet well stocked with brands like Gucci and Prada. She grew up a tomboy but that did not stop her from loving a good pair of pumps and striving to find a job that would please her parents. Upon finding herself dissatisfied with her life, her Prada bags and her newfound life in California she decided to travel to Kenya and follow her long subdued dream of doing something to actively change the world. mindy-budgor-massai-warrior-kenya-w724

When she arrived in Kenya to help build a new health clinic in the Maasai Mara game reserve she knew her life had been changed forever. She befriended  local chief who taught her about Maasai culture and history and told stories about the Maasai warriors. Mindy looked at the warriors as people who had found a purpose, to protect their families from danger and a confidence to stand up to what would make most American’s run the opposite direction (things like killing a threatening lion with just a spear). She eventually plucked up the courage to ask, how many women Maasai warriors are there anyway? Well, the answer? None. She found out that there were women who wanted to become warriors, but that the men thought them not capable. That’s when she knew what she had to do.

“Women in my tribe have wanted this for generations, but the tribal chiefs have never allowed it. If you have the ability to go through these rites of passage, I hope you take this seriously.”- Faith, Maasai woman

She returned to Kenya a few months later after finding a man who would lead her and a friend through the training process to be called a warrior. Lanet was a college-educated Maasai warrior who agreed to take Mindy and her friend out into the wilderness to complete the training. Lanet is an advocate for female rights within the Maasai tribe and hoped to bring women more respect through guiding Mindy and her friend through the journey. Normally the process is spread out over 3 to 7 years, but Lanet and six other warriors would guide them through the bush and test them as they went along, and if they were successful in everything the wilderness could throw at them, they would be introduced to the Maasai chiefs. masai-warrior-dancing-traditional-dance-anna-omelchenko

On her first night she had to kill a goat by suffocating it, which is considered my the Maasai to be the most humane way to kill an animal, then drink its blood. Throughout the next few weeks she ate only what she and the other warriors could kill, slept on leaf and stick beds and was almost swallowed whole by a hippo. She recalled her most difficult and most exhilarating moment as when she was face to face with an almost 1,500 pound buffalo, and instead of running away she raised her spear and charged, letting go of all of her fear hitting it with her spear first. This act earned her the kill and also the respect of her fellow warriors, who thought that such American women would certainly not run towards such a dangerous animal.

Her last rite of passage was to return to Lanet’s village and dance at two weddings to see if she and her friend would be accepted. Though a Maasai man lunged at her with his spear she learned that though she had gained the general acceptance within Lanet’s community, she would never have the acceptance of the entire Maasai population, but because of her women in Lanet’s village could now join the men and attempt to become Maasai warriors.

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She is now publishing a book titled “Warrior Princess: My Quest to Become the First Female Maasai Warrior” a percentage of the proceeds will go organizations to empower Maasai women and for each book sold she will provide one school meal through FEED Foundation. I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait for this book. I’ve been all about female explorers lately, and I think Mindy is another shining example of a woman stepping out of her comfort zone to find new experiences.

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19 thoughts on “women warriors”

      1. Yes, of course. Sorry, perhaps I should have done that in my original comment. Basically, I do not think it is right – actually, it is very disrespectful in my opinion – of Mindy to play the part of “white saviour,” sending the message that Masai women are incapable of achieving any change they may be striving for themselves. In wanting to help, people (namely white, privileged aid workers) should take the role of partners, NOT self-entitled leaders among a group of people whose world views are vastly different from their own.

      2. I think that’s very true! Like I said in my other comment. I think she handled the marketing poorly because I really think that her intention after this ordeal was to profit off of it, which a lot of people would look down upon and I don’t condone it but it’s an a enrage human reaction. No I don’t think people should act as “white saviours” and such but what I got out of this was personally challenging yourself to step outside your comfort zone and try to learn something new, which she did. Yeah she exaggerated her story but she’s only human. And like I said at in think negative attention to a situation is better than none. At least she got people talking, like we are now!!

      3. We are only human, of course. But those arguments don’t fly when we’re talking about serious issues like the propagation of incredibly negative stereotypes, which the Maasai people themselves have indicated as being very hurtful. We might be human and make mistakes, but she evidentially does not consider her book or actions to be a ‘mistake.’ I agree wholeheartedly with the message that we should step outside of our comfort zones and pursue our dreams – but not at the cost of someone else’s welfare.

      4. I think I will probably read it to see where people are coming from since I’ve honestly only read through a few interviews with her. I mean I do want to understand where everyone is coming from because aside from some minor ignorance I didn’t see her talking down the warriors themselves. Maybe she portrayed the women as helpless but I mean it could go either way from the few lines about women I read in the interview. I don’t really want to make any more opinions without actually reading what she wrote because it’s just not fair.

    1. Okay well after reading both the articles I will address them separately first: the first article was honestly written by someone who has no idea what they’re talking about because they did not do the slightest bit of research. Every single claim they have against her is based on fallacies. They talk about how on earth would she have time to walk with the Maasai if she was building a clinic which she clearly states were done on separate trips. There were flaws like this all through article that honesty made it not even worth reading.
      I do appreciate what the second article was saying but I really think that people are blowing what happened way out of proportion. She didn’t go over to do anything maliciously, she is a business person so she is obviously going to profit off this, she is not a trained anthropologist so you shouldn’t expect her to act as such. I understand why people are upset at her because she handled the marketing of her situation rather poorly. But honestly at least she got people to know who the Maasai were when they didn’t before. Maybe she didn’t do the trek for feminist reasons, maybe she did it for personal reasons, but does that really make her a terrible person?

    1. I encourage you to glance over the other conversations that have been going on in these comments so I won’t repeat myself and bore everyone! 🙂 like I said she’s not an anthropologist. She’s a business women. Let’s not project standards because she’s just trying to sell a book (honorable? Probably not. Expected? Yes.)

      1. I think that’s like saying: lets not project standards of responsibility, equality, or kindness and humility onto McDonalds/ the music industry/ insert some stereotypical capitalist evil. My problem with her story isn’t a fancy anthropological one. It’s about treating humans like humans, applying basic principles of human interaction to any context, not just the ones we’re familiar with. Would she ever have gone to France and call herself the first female priest after a couple of weeks of being around French people? Does she speak the language, does she understand how people around her make meaning out of situations? If she didn’t aspire to understand that, then she was just treating people like things in order to make money. Honorable? No. Expected? Well, no, by the people who read “do-gooder” or “hero” and assume everything under that title is going to be something to look up to.

      2. I mean in her defense she was well aware that she didn’t do the full Maasai warrior initiation and that (from what I understand of what I’ve read) that she did it more to prove that she wasn’t inferior or incapable just because she was a woman. While her book title and cover are incredibly insensitive it’s not uncommon for book companies to only accept works with titles that will be eye catching or will sell, I mean look at Margaret Mead’s famous anthropological work in American Samoa. She honestly faced the same criticism because her book cover perpetuated the ‘sexy’ Samoan woman and she barely learnt the language and yet her findings and work are still regarded as some of the most important cultural anthropological works in history.
        We can’t know mindys intentions and they probably were selfish and although I think the marketing is to make money I don’t think she went on the excursion to make money. I think the opportunity presented itself to do something different and she took it. I’m really not completely condoning everything she did or the way she went about it, but I think you’re exaggerating a bit much. Have you read her book?

      3. Also, I don’t think she should be saying that she’s a ‘real’ warrior, if she is (I haven’t read anything that specified like that) because she didn’t go through the whole training and she knows that. But I do think that wording was specifically sell books. But she did state she knew she wasn’t going through the full ritual, so I think a little white girls bragging shouldn’t be so offensive.

      4. I do not think Saaahrie can be accused of exaggerating. The following excerpt is C&P from here (http://jezebel.com/a-real-maasai-womans-thoughts-on-the-white-warrior-pr-1350669905) – it’s a Maasai woman’s opinion i.e. an opinion that should be counted above all else! (Also, I want to add here – it does not matter about Mindy’s “intentions.” The OUTCOME is what counts).

        [I also want to add – I know our opinions might differ, but thank you endangeredliving for engaging in this conversation. You’re clearly a passionate woman, so I hope you don’t take my comments as personal criticisms – like you said, it’s great that we’re in the privileged position to be able to have these kinds of discussions 🙂 I enjoy your blog and all the facts Ive gathered about animals along the way. Anyway, back to the original point… 😉 ]

        I have expressed how I feel about this piece elsewhere but I have to add my 2 cts to this discussion as a Kenyan Maasai Woman. What I find disturbing about it:

        1. Of course the obvious ‘white savior’ aspect – she came, she did and now we all should be able to follow suit. Like we needed her to come show us the way. Who told her we want to be ‘warriors’? Who told her we need to be ‘warriors’ to make a ‘difference’?

        2. The culture insensitiveness of it all – that she can just trot into the wilderness and claim to be a ‘warrior’ after a month WTF it takes about 15 years to be a Moran and even then some don’t make it – so what is she saying – the Maasai morans are slackers?

        3. Insulting to the many Maasai women and Maasai Culture in general. Especially all the brilliant women working towards equality for themselves and girls. As far as I know Maasai women don’t become warriors and don’t want to be warriors But if they want to and choose to…they don’t need an ‘outsider’ to come fight their fight for them. We can fight our own battles ourselves thank you! and ps: we are and continue to in ways that are respectful to our culture and our traditions. How would Native Americans feel if someone showed up did a few sun dances, slept in a tee pee and then claims to be a navajo warrior or something! idiocy!

        4. That she is making money off of this! That hurts! No difference between her and the colonialist or the slave traders….in my view she just came to take period! I would like to know if any of her book proceeds go back to the any of the people she used.

        5. Lastly we have to look on our side as well. Why is it so easy for us to sell ourselves like this? I mean i understand the money aspect but how do we prevent/educate our own folks from disgracefully selling themselves like this? If this woman was not a ‘mzungu’ she would never have had this experience let alone write about it. Are we still enslaved in our minds or what?

        These are just my views and i don’t speak for my entire community, am sure there are some that will differ.

      5. Thank you!(for the blog stuff) and I don’t completely disagree with you. I really don’t and I don’t take it personally at all(just don’t take it personally if I stop responding, my boyfriend just brought home Oreos, my biggest weakness). I just think that there are a lot of ways to look at what she did and like I said maybe people now will say hmm who are the Maasai? Yeah there will always be those idiots who see a picture of a baby tiger and go AWW I WANT ONE, which is kind of what she did, only with culture. But there are places like zoos that run on the aww I want one and while their methods and projecting messages can be construed that it’s okay to keep animals in captivity, or animals are happy being on leashes on stage, we can also look and say hey, maybe the zoo isn’t the best place to see an okapi, but at least they know what an okapi is now. Now it’s up to the individual to find out more about the animal/culture/theory presented to them. That’s kind of how I look at it. I don’t want to run out and jump into a society I know nothing about that’s existed for god knows how long and claim that I am “one” with them after learning some traditions, but I certainly am intrigued to learn more about the warrior process. (I’m woefully ignorant of most African subcultures, my school focuses on N or S america and my personal interest is in Asia)

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