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Kenyan youth gather to celebrate ‘Maasai Olympics’

Hundreds of youths from the Maasai pastoralists in Kenya have gathered at a wildlife sanctuary to participate in the “Maasai Olympics,” a ceremony promoted by conservationists as an alternative rite of passage for young men in the community.

The spectacle, in which youthful morans or warriors compete in various games and takes place once every two years, was held on Saturday in Kimana Sanctuary on the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro near Kenya’s border with Tanzania.

The games that include spear throwing, athletics and high jump were improvised as an alternative ritual of transition to manhood for Maasai boys who traditionally were required to fight and kill a lion to prove their bravery and manhood.

To curb the practice, Maasai cultural leaders partnered with Big Life Foundation, a conservation pressure group, to provide an alternative rite of passage, eventually giving birth to the “Maasai Olympics,” in which young men compete to earn medals and cash prizes.

“We now co-exist perfectly with the wildlife,” community leader Matasia Nerangas said at the ceremony on Saturday.

“We share the same grazing fields and watering holes with the wild animals, and we stand to benefit more now than before.”

Craig Miller, Chief Operating Officer of Big Life Foundation, said the games had helped reduce the danger to the lion population in the area.

“The program has had a huge impact on the lion population and it is one of the few areas in Africa outside of protected areas where lion population is stable or growing,” he said.

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