Hilda Gore: As part of the Weston A. Price Foundation’s international outreach, we’ve been visiting in Oiti in the region of Matapato in Kenya near the Tanzanian border. Dickson Ole Gisa has been an amazing host. He’s given us opportunities to share the principles of the Weston A. Price Foundation with his community. I came last year and I’m back again. Please tell us, Dickson, what has been the response from your community when they heard about the Weston A. Price principles?
Dickson: Their response was positive. Our first meeting with the youth about the wise traditions diet was very interesting. They said this is a good message and when a good message comes to the community, that message gets passed on to other community members who were not at the meeting.
HG: The pastor in this evening’s meeting said some positive things as well.
D: Yes, the pastor is my age-mate. We grew up together. He knows what we are talking about. He has made a commitment as a pastor of the church that spreading this message will start from the church, as the Bible said, it will start from Jerusalem. Our Jerusalem is the members of our church. And now we can move to other neighboring communities.
HG: That’s wonderful. I remember him saying that he wanted the women to start cooking traditional foods starting today.
D: Yes. Normally, after you learn a lesson in class you then do what you learned practically. So what the pastor meant was that since the women in our community prepare the food for the family, he was encouraging the women to start with the family. As the saying goes, “Charity begins at home.”
HG: Did you say he is your age-mate? Tell us a little bit more about that. It seems that you grew up eating a lot of traditional foods.
D: Yes, it is a long story. The pastor and I grew up in the same village. We were born in the same village and went to school together. We have another thing in common—our families were not really rich. In fact, we were poor. We did not have enough livestock so most of the time my father and his father depended on wild meats. They had to hunt in order for us to have food. We shared a lot of common things.
HG: What were some of the wild meats that your fathers would hunt?
D: During the latter part of the 1970s up to 1980, I remember there was a lot of hunting because there was a market for ivory from elephant tusks. People were given a license to hunt. The pastor’s father and my father hunted together. When they hunted for buffaloes they brought back the meat, which we mostly ate. They also hunted for antelopes and zebras.
HG: What about raw milk? Did you consume raw milk from the cows at that time?
D: Yes, the Maasai people had milk from the cow and also blood and meat from the cow. When we were young—not only when we were practicing morans (or warriors) but also when we were young—we didn’t have much food apart from the milk and blood from the cow. That is the only diet you can find from the Maasai. We ate the fat that we got from the milk—there is a way that we make fat from milk which is very nice and healthy. When a child is born, the child is raised with only breastfeeding and consuming the fat from the milk.
HG: That sounds like a solid beginning. How do you see the diet of the Maasai changing now?
D: It is changing tremendously. People are running to buy foreign foods. By foreign foods, I mean they are not foods from the Maasai community. They are human-made food—processed foods. They buy maize flour, oils, sodas, and juices.
HG: How do you think that is affecting them?
D: There are a lot of foreign diseases. We call them foreign diseases because we did not have those diseases before. Since people are starting to adapt the foreign cultures’ way of eating processed foods, now people are getting the foreign diseases. We have so many cases of cancer. Recently we lost a teacher with whom I grew up and went to school. We also have cases of high blood pressure and diabetes. These are diseases we didn’t know when we were young. Back in the 1980s, cancer was unfamiliar to us but now it’s killing our community.
HG: How did you find out about the Weston A. Price Foundation?
D: I found out about it through a friend named Lisa. It was in an orientation. The missionaries come to Matapato and they stay here to learn the culture of the Maasai and live with the communities. I met this friend but now I call her my sister because I am part of her life and she’s also part of my life. Lisa introduced me to the Weston Price A. Foundation.
HG: It seems that what you’ve heard about these wise traditions from the Foundation make sense because you see it playing out in your community. You see that when the people ate the traditional foods they were not sick but now that they eat modern, processed foods they are sick. Have you had any opportunities to share what you’ve learned from Weston Price’s wise traditions with others outside your community?
D: Yes, I have a friend who’s a lecturer in a university. I shared with him some information and gave him a book, which I got from a friend. He’s really interested in learning about the wise traditions. It seems like I’m getting addicted to this subject matter because it is what I want to talk about. As a community leader, I have the great opportunity of interacting with people and therefore have the opportunity of spreading the Foundation’s message to other people.
HG: One thing the pastor said today is that the information that the Weston A. Price Foundation is bringing to you is not new because you as a people and as a culture already have a tradition—a tradition that you want to return to. Can you tell us some of the traditions? Tell us about what you give women who are expecting a baby.
D: Women who are expecting a baby are selective with food. They don’t eat just any food they come across because they need to protect someone who is the future of the community so they are selective. They eat meat from healthy cows. They don’t eat the meat of unhealthy cows. It has to be a healthy cow. They also drink the milk of a healthy cow. Meat and milk are the main diet. We also have different kinds of natural fruits from the forest. They are God-grown fruits. They’re wild fruits. They’re very healthy for expectant mothers.
HG: Once the woman gives birth, what do you recommend she take right away?
D: After a mother delivers a baby, the first thing she’s given is blood. If she gives birth to a boy, then immediately she’s given blood from a bull. If it’s a girl, she’s given the blood of a heifer. After that a woman can come out of the Maasai hut and say, “Thank you, Lord, you have today added a new member to my family.” She states the name of the family, like the Dickson family, for example. The Maasai praise God for the newborn baby. The mother is given the blood from the cow to replace the lost blood during the delivery process. And that’s one of our traditions.
HG: What’s the tradition when a baby starts to become ill?
D: We give the baby a traditional drink which is the milk fat mixed with the mother’s milk.
HG: You had mentioned that there is a book that a Maasai wrote years ago. Tell us a little bit about that book.
D: Yes, I believe it was written by the first Maasai scholar. His name is SS Olensankan. As the Maasai culture is diminishing, I compare him with Dr. Weston Price. I think that Professor Olensankan knew that because we are adapting foreign cultures, our own culture is diminishing. So he thought of writing a book where he listed not only the foods but the cultural traditions that the Maasai people practice. It is a good book called The Legends of the Maasai Community. I wish someone would translate it into English. I have not seen it in English. I think this is because the aim of the author is to benefit the Maasai people. I know he’s able to write in English but he decided to put it in the Maa language because it was for the benefit of the Maa community.
HG: This could be a guide book for your community.
D: Yes. It contains Maasai traditions: how to feed an infant, diets for pregnant women, sacrificial ceremonies and how to perform them, etc.
HG: You said earlier that people are buying foreign foods. Why do you think they are buying them?
D: They are buying them because they find them attractive. They see the package and think there is something special in it. They look shiny and pretty. They are presented as something you can cook quickly and the people think they are healthy for the family.
HG: In a village like yours, which I think is not very close to a huge town, where are people buying these foods?
D: They are all over. In my village, we have small shops. They get the foods from a trading center and then bring them to the community. It’s not hard to get these foreign foods.
HG: Is it hard to get the traditional foods?
D: It is not hard but we have this thing called civilization. People think that they are civilized so they want foreign foods. They think eating traditional foods is a primitive way of eating. Drinking blood, for example, is seen by most of the well-educated people in the Maasai community as primitive. The same goes for eating raw kidney, for example, when it is still freshly harvested. We were taught in school that we need to cook and boil meat to kill the germs as well as boil milk before consuming it. This kind of science brings complications.
HG: So the education is pushing in the other direction. The more educated people are they don’t want to go what they see as backwards. They think eating traditional foods is old-fashioned.
HG: I imagine with young people there is an even stronger push toward the new. When you were in school did they teach you that these things were old-fashioned or is it just now?
D: They started teaching us when we were in school but still at that time the culture was very strong. Our parents believed more in the culture than in the education, but now it’s switching.
HG: So the challenge is to hold on to these good traditions at a time when the culture and education push in the other direction.
That’s the same challenge we have in the United States. People think that modern and convenient foods are better than cooking in the old-fashioned way, although the tide is turning. People are so sick, Dickson, that they’re realizing that something is wrong and this is making them seek out these wise traditions. Dickson, you are facing a challenging uphill battle in going against the current education and pressure to modernize. What are some things your family has done to go back to traditional ways in your diet?
D: Since we had your first visit from the Weston A. Price Foundation, we have been trying to practice these things in reality. My wife, who’s a teacher, has left the profession because family is more important than the work of teaching. Now, she has started a small farm. We are growing our own food. We don’t have to go to the market to buy food from shops. Now people are even coming to buy food from us.
HG: I have seen your garden. You have kale, potatoes, bananas, cassava, oranges, peppers and tomatoes. And you’re not using pesticides.
D: That is right, we are not using pesticides.
HG: You have taken a step in a very good direction. It is fantastic.
D: Thank you.
HG: We just had raw milk tonight. You are doing your best to change your family’s diet and affect your community.
D: How did you like the raw milk?
HG: I liked it. It seemed like it was fermented a little bit. It was sour and tasted like yogurt, but I liked it. It was rich and I’m sure it was full of enzymes that we need. At tonight’s meeting with the community, one man said that whenever he drinks the blood he still feels really good. I think part of what will help people eat these traditional foods is people feeling the difference in their own health.
D: We’ve also seen that we’re no longer buying maize flour from the shop. We have our own maize and we grind it into flour and make ugali, which is a cornmeal dish.
HG: You make that at home. I did see maize drying, was that for the flour?
HG: I want to hear one more story about your childhood. Tell me what it was like when you would go to school and what your health was like.
D: I was really very healthy. I walked from my house to school, which is six kilometers away. That distance takes about an hour for Maasai people. It would probably take two hours for white people to walk the same distance. I would go very early in the morning. I would just take a cup of milk directly from the cow before I went. I would be at school for the whole day and not feel hungry. Often I would not have lunch. We wouldn’t eat lunch unless during the lunch break we would go eat some wild honey. We also hunted quails. Me and the pastor were good at this. We would make some traps. On the way to school in the morning, we would make the traps so when we came at lunch time we would have a number of quails. Quails and honey were our lunch because we were not able to walk from school back home to have milk. In the evening, we would take milk. We had milk every day and blood on Saturday and Sunday. The whole family drank blood every weekend.
HG: All of this gave you the strength to go to school and do your studies.
D: I felt strong and energetic. When it rained I didn’t care. I didn’t feel cold. There was no malaria or coughs. If someone is coughing, they are given honey mixed with some traditional medicine. That is what I give my daughter, Camilla. I can show you that it is very hot, and when you take it it’s very good for the chest.
HG: I’m so glad to talk with you. We all can learn from the wise traditions you are applying in your life. I’m glad you’re close to your traditions and to your ancestors. We in the United States have a lot to learn from communities like yours that have these traditions and are trying to return to them. Thank you for this conversation.
D: Thank you so much and I promise that there will be a huge U-turn for my community. We will be returning to where we came from.
HG: We wish you the best.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly journal of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Fall 2016