What are YOU afraid of?


Spiders, clowns, heights, flying? What are YOU afraid of? About 1 out of every 10 Americans have had a phobia of some type. Having fear is a natural response of our brain that evolved in order for us to survive. After all, if we didn’t have fear, we could get into all types of trouble.

In some cases fear can be debilitating, and become a phobia.  A phobia is a fear that interferes with our daily lives, causing us to change our behavior purposely to avoid it.   In this post we look at the Maasai (Masai) tribe of Kenya and Tanzania to see what we can learn about facing fear.



What the Maasai Teach Us

If you have ever been on safari in the beautiful plains of the Serengeti (Tanzania) or in Maasai Mara (the Kenyan side of the Serengeti)you will notice that the camps are usually guarded by a Maasai warrior. The warrior protects the camp, and more importantly, his community’s farms and families, from lions and other wild animals. The Maasai, a semi-nomadic tribe who live in the plains in southern Kenya and northern  Tanzania, learn from an early age to face fear.  In fact many people say that the Maasai are not afraid of the lion, but instead the lion is afraid of them! Click

The Serengeti spans from northern Tanzania to southern Kenya.  It stretches  5700 square miles.  The peak time to visit the Serengeti is December through March, when wildebeast are at their peak. The wildebeast start their great migration north to Kenya in April. The Kenyan side of the Serengeti is referred to as Maasai Mara. Maasai Mara is one of the largest and most concentrated ecosystems in which to see lions. Spanning about 580 square miles in southern Kenya, it has a large number of animal species.  The best time to visit Maasai Mara is July to October to see wildebeest and their migration (down South to Tanzania in October) or in the dry season in December or February.  For more info check out the useful websites links at the bottom of the post.

Giraffen Sunset

In Maasai tradition, when a young man becomes around 10-15 years of age, he goes through a rite of passage to become part of a class of warriors, called the ilmurran. The warrior has to protect the village and its cattle from drought  and wild animals. As part of the transformation into a warrior, a young man must face a number of challenges so that he will have no fear when it comes time to protect others.


This process traditionally included a lion hunt (olaymayio).  This practice has evolved over time, however, as the number of lions in the plains has dropped significantly. Now it is rarely done and when done, it occurs in groups and is usually related to the protection of cattle.  Kenya and Tanzania both have rules that prohibit killing lions in its protected areas, except in certain cases.

There are definitely controversies surrounding this tradition. Many Maasai have come into some conflict with the governments of Kenya and Tanzania related to lion conservation and preserving their way of life at various points in time.  Click

When someone sees a lion who has attacked livestock, he/she calls the warriors (in the old days through a war cry, now with a cell phone). The warriors come and surround the lion and kill it with spears. The Maasai do not eat the lion meat, but do take parts to use such as the claws, mane and paws. Other ways of killing the lion, such as with poison or guns, are considered cowardly. The Maasai have occasionally killed animals as part of protest movements. In one case, in the 70’s, killings occurred to protest conservationist efforts that limited their land. However for the most part, the Maasai play a large and integral role in conservationalist and educational efforts.  It is illegal to kill lions in both Kenya and Tanzania, except to protect livestock. Tanzania allows lion hunts under certain  very controlled license agreements.  Occasionally, ceremonial group lion hunts do occur by the Maasai in both countries. For more information about the Maasai, check out the research resources and useful links at the bottom of the post.

Whatever your opinion may be about this tradition, you have to admit, protecting your village or a camp from the threat of a lion takes a lot of courage.  We can learn a lot from the Maasai in facing our own fears and phobias.


Helpful Tips to Combat Fear

According to research, the best way to address fear is to indeed take a head on approach, like the Maasai. While you don’t have to go out and hunt a lion, acknowledging what you are afraid of is the first step to overcoming fear, or its more severe form, phobia. Here are some hints derived from cognitive-behavioral therapy and extinction based modification, forms of therapy in which one takes a stepwise approach to fear:

1. Acknowledge it. Admit to yourself what you are afraid of and realize that its ok to have this feeling.

2. Think about what may have sparked your fear initially. Thinking about the cause of fear helps you approach the best way to deal with it.

3. Become aware of your response to this fear. Do you feel anxious, sweaty, nervous? What do you think will happen?

4. Learn how to relax. Think of relaxing thoughts in response to the fear, try to breath, hum or meditate. Whatever helps you relax.

5. Combat negative thinking. Picture realistically what can happen. In most cases it’s not so bad, remind yourself of that repeatedly.

6. Transform your fear into something else. For example you can view it as an adventure or an adrenaline rush.

7. Face the challenge head on. You can start small, even with visualization or by drawing a picture.

8. Repeat the challenges. Start small with just a brief graduated exposure, each time pushing yourself just a little more, until it becomes routine.

In some cases other treatments may be needed, such as professional guided therapy, meditation, hypnosis and in severe cases, medication therapy.  But studies have shown that for many types of phobias, self-mediated approaches can be highly effective.

So what are you afraid of and how have you dealt with it? Please share your thoughts and advice in the comments section!





Anthis K. Who Am I.  http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/who-am-i/201210/5-steps-facing-fears

Dias BG,B anerjee SB, Goodman JV, Ressler KJ. Towards new approaches to disorders of fear and anxiety.Current Opinion in Neurobiology. 2013; 23:346-52. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23402950

Goldman M, Roquede Pinho J, Perry J. Beyond ritual and economics: Maasai lion hunting and conservation politics. 2013; 2013 Fauna & Flora International, Oryx, 1–11

Hazlett-Stevens H. Mindfulness-based stress reduction for comorbid anxiety and depression: case report and clinical considerations. Journal of Nervous & Mental Disease. 2012; 200:999-1003.http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23124187

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