Warriors’ Duty

The Maasai Cricket Warriors are fighting for women's rights, one wicket at a time.

Nancy Mamai was 10 years old when she was scheduled for a customary ritual to prepare girls in her tribe for marriage: female genital mutilation. But her brothers intervened. "They told our father no," Mamai recalls. "It is too dangerous."

Although the FGM ritual was outlawed in her native Kenya in 2011, it is still widely practiced by her people, the Maasai, a semi-nomadic tribe of about a million that lives across Kenya and Tanzania. So what gave her brothers the courage to take a stand against a centuries-old tradition? Cricket. Here's a look at their story.

Today, the Warriors bowl and bat in their traditional clothing -- bloodred skirts and bright, beaded necklaces. They visit Maasai schools to teach cricket basics, travel to play in Australia, South Africa and London, and were featured in a 2015 documentary, all the while broadcasting their anti-FGM message.

The Mamai brothers are members of the Maasai Cricket Warriors, a team intent on ending FGM. They began playing in 2007 after a South African wildlife researcher introduced them to the game. Her cricket gear was a novelty for the Maasai, but the movements she taught them were not. "Throwing the ball is like throwing a spear," says Christopher Ole Ngais, 23. "And batting, that's like using a shield."

Lendele Seko Mamai, 63, father to Daniel and Nancy Mamai, has followed the Maasai culture strictly and has adhered to the rules of FGM. Over the years, his first five daughters were circumcised. But with awareness created by his son and the other Maasai Cricket Warriors, Lendele's last born girl, Nancy, was his only daughter to be spared of ritual.

Nancy, 20, spends a lot of her time at the Il Polei Community Centre, which acts as a library and a cricket house. "I want to be a teacher or a nurse," she said. She is realizing that dream, as she enrolled for a teaching course at the university recently.

Little by little, the members of the Mambai family, including aunts and uncles, started to embrace the idea of not cutting their daughters. And the Warriors' message has directly influenced those choices -- Nancy (from left) and her cousins, Priscilla and Eunice all avoided FGM.

The Maasai Cricket Warriors are bonded together by a common cause, but they also have the bond of family. Cousins Papai Mamai (left) and Daniel Mamai come together two or three times a week to practice with the team.

As part of the first Maasai generation (Sambu Sintanoi, pictured here) with access to education and the internet, they feel compelled to use their platform to effect change. "We have to think about what the role of the warrior is today in modern society," Ngais says. "It is still to protect. We need to protect our girls, our sisters, our mothers. That is our duty."

Outside of Chris Memusi's home in the village of Endana, his sisters and their friends gather to play street cricket with plastic bats and stumps. "While playing cricket, their moods are always happy," says Sonyanga Memusi, Chris' brother.

Chris and Sonyanga's mother, Sokoyian, have played a vital role in her family: She advocated to her husband about ending FGM for her daughters. "She has been our inspiration and guidance, and has supported us since we started playing cricket," says Sonyanga.

In addition to running his business, Chris carries out his cultural duties as a Maasai son, tending to the family's sheep and goats every day.

Life is busy for Chris, juggling his duties at home, his business and cricket. "He has lots of responsibilities -- being the only son at home at the moment," says Sonyanga. "Therefore he has to assume many roles like a strong warrior."

So what's next for the Maasai Cricket Warriors? "We hope that we will have many platforms both locally and internationally for us to spread our messages," says Sonyanga. "And we hope that FGM will end in our generation."

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