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by Clifford Moskow, Warthog Productions
color, 56 min, 2004
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In 1983, at the age of 19, Maasai warrior Mpeti Ole Surum left his homeland in Southern Kenya. He left his cattle, sheep and goats. He moved from the community where he lived among other warriors to attend school and learn the English language; an opportunity unknown to others in his village.
Mpeti had met American tourists who were on a safari in Kenya. Their talk of the "outside world" interested him; they encouraged Mpeti to think about education. But his father beat and put a curse on him at the mention of school. Only after Mpeti persuaded the chief of his village to speak on his behalf, did his father concede. Mpeti entered the first grade at 19, changed his name to "Tom" and graduated three years later with an eight grade education, able to read and write in English.
The Maasai people possess great pride and self-respect. Their life within a rigid social structure maintains the harmony that has sustained them for thousands of years in the great Rift Valley of Kenya. According to Maasai tradition, the warrior earns privileges by performing special duties. Tom underwent a series of rituals during his development as a warrior, including circumcision at age 15. The most honorable achievement for a warrior is the slaying of a lion. Tom killed two.
Tom took a job at Keekorok Lodge, a resort owned by the United Touring Company (UTC), Kenya's largest tourist agency located in the Maasai Mara Game Reserve. He worked as a grounds keeper, room steward, a salesman and a manager in the gift shop. But he made an impression on the guests when he began speaking about Maasai culture. In hopes of attracting others to Kenya, UTC sent Tom to entertain in London, England. Within months the nomadic warrior had become a sought after lecturer, entertainer and talk show guest.