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White American Claims to Be Kenya's First Female Maasai Warrior

Mindy Budgor is an American woman from Southern California who has released a book, “Warrior Princess: My Quest to Become the First Female Maasai Warrior“, detailing her controversial attempt to become the first female Maasai warrior.

A photo of Mindy Budgor's book from amazon.com.

A photo of Mindy Budgor's book from amazon.com.

Mindy says that she traveled to Kenya from the US and lived among the Maasai who took her through the rituals of becoming a warrior. The Maasai are a Nilotic ethnic group of semi-nomadic people located in Kenya and Tanzania, known for their centuries-old traditions. Maasai men become warriors after going through rituals that demonstrate bravery, courage and patience.

Her journey has sparked intense debate online about cultural appropriation and insensitivity. TMS Ruge, the co-founder of Ugandan technology incubator HiveColab, shared his thoughts on Mindy's warriorhood:

I have been toying with the idea of writing a full blog post in response Mindy Budgor’s ill-advised Warrior Princess book that I linked to yesterday. Partly because I got so incensed by and felt I really needed to dig deeper to understand her reasoning for thinking this was a good idea. Then I thought, how many amateur NGO’s or ‘guilt of privilege’ projects have I heard of that started after a volunteer came back from a two-week trip to Africa or read about some injustice on the continent? Nearly all of them turn out to be spectacular disasters. So why should I waste any more energy on this one?

He then posted a comment left by a Maasai woman, Rarin Ole Sein, on a Facebook discussion group:

I have expressed how I feel about this piece elsewhere but I have to add my 2 cts to this discussion as a Kenyan Maasai Woman. What I find disturbing about it;

Of course the obvious ‘white savior’ aspect – she came, she did and now we all should be able to follow suit. Like we needed her to come show us the way. Who told her we want to be ‘warriors’? Who told her we need to be ‘warriors’ to make a ‘difference’?

The culture insensitiveness of it all – that she can just trot into the wilderness and claim to be a ‘warrior’ after a month WTF it takes about 15 years to be a Moran and even then some don’t make it – so what is she saying – the Maasai morans are slackers?

Insulting to the many Maasai women and Maasai Culture in general. Especially all the brilliant women working towards equality for themselves and girls. As far as I know Maasai women don’t become warriors and don’t want to be warriors But if they want to and choose to…they don’t need an ‘outsider’ to come fight their fight for them.

Africa is a Country described the background of Mindy's trip to Kenya, and went on to critique Western media coverage of her book:

Loads of our readers have been badgering us to blog about Mindy Budgor, a young white, middle class American from Southern California (her site comes with a health warning) who traveled to Kenya for a PR campaign for Under Armour sports clothing prior to starting an MBA degree and disguised the trip as a white feminist cause to end sexism among the Maasai. Budgor predictably published a book (Warrior Princess: My Quest to Become the First Female Maasai Warrior) and goes on about her “tribe” of Maasai. She now gets interviewed by glossy women’s magazines and even suckers The Guardian and the BBC (both of whom should be ashamed of themselves). The Guardian have chosen to indulge this sort of drivel plenty of times before despite always considering themselves better than other British newspapers, and we have to wonder why Mindy’s piece wasn’t posted to the Guardian Africa Network page if they really thought it was a piece worth publishing. It’s one thing to talk about getting past the bad old way of writing about Africa, quite another to show that you are really serious.

Young Maasai warriors doing the traditional warriors' dance. Photo released under Creative Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0) by Wikipedia user Bjørn Christian Tørrissen.

Young Maasai warriors doing the traditional warriors’ dance. Photo released under Creative Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0) by Wikipedia user Bjørn Christian Tørrissen.

A commenter on their piece, Rachel Kay Albers, expressed her total disgust:

I am absolutely DISGUSTED by this! And her personal website is the WORST. Apparently the “first female Masaai warrior” wears Chanel nail polish and washes her PEARL earrings in Smart Water. Are you effing KIDDING ME?!?!? Oh and 25% of book proceeds go to “empower” women. Yay! Let’s empower women of color to seek out “brave” middle class white women to be their heroes AND make money do that. “Go ahead! Appropriate my culture and get rich doing it! I’ll take 25% How empowering!!!!!!!!!!!!”

However, another reader, Micah, argued that Mindy pursued her passion of experiencing a different culture:

I think Miss Budgor pursued her passion of experiencing a very interesting culture and has done an incredible job at creating a universe around this experience. All of the naysayers are clearly jealous of the ability to take a brazen leap into a new journey, and are solely focusing on her “privileged” situation. I applaud Mindy’s efforts and I think the book was punchy and sheds light on a culture that I was not familiar with. Bravo Mindy Budgor!!!!!!!

April Conway, who said she spent five years in an African village, disagreed with Micah's argument:

I’m a nay-sayer (this book is horse-crap, and she’s exploiting the concept of the noble savage for her profit), and I can certainly say I am not jealous of her. I think her a fool. I’ve spent over 5 years living in an African village, learning from them without trying to change their culture and without exploiting their culture for my profit. I think you don’t know what the hell you’re talking about. Read some of the Maasai women and the Kenyan peoples responses to this article and maaaybe you’ll get a clue. Seriously, three months in a place is just a flashy vacation – to promote it as otherwise is moronic (Not Moran-ic).

In another post, Africa is a Country shared two responses from their readers who happen to be Maasai women. aerofloatbo wrote:

I am a Maasai woman (from Kenya) and we have seen these (white) women come and go. We have Maasai women members of parliament, doctors, lawyers, professors, civil servants, teachers, nurses, business owners etc., but of course, we don’t exist in the eyes of fools like this Mindy woman whose sole purpose always appears to be to fetishize Maasai men (our sons, brothers, fathers and husbands) in one way or another. How many books are going to be written by white women about how they came and fell in love with a Maasai man, gave up everything for him, helped poor ignorant Maasai women, taught Maasai men how to behave etc, etc. We are sooooo fed up! I’m surprised it was an American this time because usually, the British are the WORST culprits.

Another Maasai reader, Leah, said she was offended by the book:

As a Maasai woman I feel very offended by Budgor’s attempt to gain fame at the expense of Maasai culture. There is nothing unique she has done that a regular Maasai woman hasn’t done and/or experienced and we don’t call ourselves warriers for a good reason. It’s like me coming to America and claiming I am the first female football player because I spent two weeks at training camp!

A discussion thread on Africa is a Country Facebook page, “Please.Stop:With.This.Nonsense ( “How Did This California Girl Become a Real Warrior Princess?”)“, has attracted 62 comments and 66 likes at the time of writing this post. Adding a comment on the thread, Chad McClymonds complained:

Oh my God. The worst part is, so many great African writers get rejected by publishers, yet this bullshit gets published and dispersed widely. I only wish it was a parody it is that God awful absurd

Laurah Sambuli made fun of her:

I read through hoping to read that she had killed a lion with her spear or bare hands (that's how it used to be to become a Maasai warrior). And she claims to have succeeded in changing the Maasai gender policy. Ntsk!

Tunan Nyokabi noted:

what a nonsense! Laurah Sambuli that's how fake these books by people who have no idea about our cultures continue to spread stereotypes

Following widespread criticism about her attempt to become a female Maasai warrior, Mindy used her website to explain herself:

I never intended to fall in love with Africa, nor find myself living among the Maasai. But I did and I have. During my first trip to Kenya, as a volunteer in a women’s clinic, I met an inspiring man named Winston. This Maasai warrior explained the rites of passage to become a warrior, a path closed to women because we were not strong enough or brave enough, but one I could try to master.This conjured up feelings of my own inadequacies, physical limitations, and lack of confidence in the unknown. Perhaps I would have forgotten about Winston’s words if I hadn’t met a Maasai woman named Faith later that day; she told me that women in her tribe have wanted the right to become warriors for generations. Faith explained that women longed to receive this status, and thus ultimate respect in the tribe. She took the offer seriously and encouraged me to understand its significance.

She concluded:

In the end, a group of elders decided to take it upon themselves to work to allow girls the right to become warriors because they believed it was in the best interest of the preservation of the culture. Today they are working to allow twenty Maasai girls in Loita to be part of the next warrior class.

My experience with the Maasai was transformative. I was pushed in my physical and mental capacity on a daily basis, despite wanting to wave the white flag on countless occasions. It seemed to me that the Maasai didn’t care that I was white, Jewish, or came from a family of financial means.

My intention in sharing my story was not to stir up controversy and surely not anger, but to build awareness for the tribe and show that even the least auspicious person can allow her or himself the freedom to explore other perspectives.

  • Pingback: White American Claims to Be Kenya’s First Female Maasai Warrior | International Political Forum

  • Maya Norton

    Without having read Ms. Budgor’s book, I offer Corinne Hoffman as another woman whose experience sounds like it may have overlaps. She fell in love with and married a Samburu man in Kenya .

    Here is a link to her Wikipedia entry for those interested. Her first book was, “The White Maasai”; she has since written three more.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corinne_Hofmann

  • harry999

    get more news and watch live channels from africa on this african diaspora

  • mango7

    Glad to see so many people are calling BULLSHIT on her disgusting premise and exploitative PR campaign. It is egotistical people like her who perpetuate the stereotype of the “Ugly American Tourist”. The old storyline of the Westerner coming to save the poor natives from themselves is soooooooo pathetically ignorant. If she is really sincere, she would at least listen to the people who are angry and have legitimate concerns and questions. Even is she’s just a business person trying to make some $$$, she should realize that you can’t ignore people’s concerns or try to dismiss them with defensive rhetoric.

  • northierthanthou.com

    I have to say, the work in question seems like one of the worst examples of cultural appropriation that I’ve seen in awhile.

  • Pingback: White American Claims to Be Kenya’s First...

  • Pingback: Race, Shamanism, and the gifts of The Morrigan | red vulture

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