Now occupying a much smaller area in the Kajiado and Narok districts since their vast territory has been taken over by some of Kenya’s game reserves, the Maasai are one of the most popular and unique ethnic groups in Africa due to their long preserved culture.
Accounting for only about 0.7 percent of Kenya’s population, with a similar number in Tanzania, the Maasai are considered to be one of East Africa’s most internationally well-known tourist attractions. This is largely due to their distinguishing culture, dress style and terrain. They are often dressed in red sheets otherwise known as shuka, wrapped around the body with tons of beaded jewelry around the neck and arms.
The Maasai have large herds of cattle which they depend on for food and as a source of wealth. Most of them practice nomadic pastoralism while others are working in the tourism sector, displaying their culture to tourists.
In Mindu Tulieni, a small village in the eastern Pwani region in Tanzania, two Maasai siblings Kili and Neema Paul have become TikTok stars, winning the hearts of people on the platform especially those from India and Bollywood. The siblings have TikTok videos showing them lip-syncing perfectly in Hindi and dancing to some of Bollywood’s most well-known songs.
They use a smartphone to record their videos. And being in a small village in Tanzania without electricity, Kili travels to the nearest town, Lugoba, every day to charge the phone, which is his. 26-year-old Kili usually stands by his sister Neema, 23, while recording their TikTok videos.
They started recording the videos for fun and never thought they would go viral, especially in India. “…When I started seeing the amount of views and the responses from people in India, I was so shocked. My mind was blown,” Kili was quoted by BBC.
His love for Bollywood films inspired his videos, he said. While schooling in the Tanzanian capital, Dodoma, he watched a lot of Bollywood films in local cinemas, he said. And today, even though he doesn’t know the language, he has taught himself to sing in Hindi. His sister Neema has done the same. Kili said it takes him a few days to learn the lyrics and to practice the song. He also finds out what the lyrics mean in English to enable him to include the right expressions while connecting with the music.
And previously, he performed his TikTok videos alone. But knowing that his sister also loves Bollywood, he asked her to join him. Neema initially refused to join him because she was too shy to be in front of the camera but as time went on, she got used to it, and today the two are not only famous TikTok stars in their country but across the world particularly in India. Thus, besides spending their days herding cattle and farming, the two have been interviewed by scores of TV and radio stations in India, BBC reported.
Their most popular video, a performance of Raataan Lambiyan from the recent Bollywood film Shershaah, was viewed over a million times in just a few days after it was shared by the film’s leading actors.
Interestingly, relatives of the siblings and people in their village were not aware that they had become global stars. Almost everyone was confused when journalists started coming to the village with TV crews.
“At first, my family wondered why I was singing and dancing instead of looking after the cows. Now they are starting to understand that I am doing something good,” Kili said, according to BBC.
His verified TikTok account that he started about a year ago after getting to know about it from friends now has more than 1.8 million followers. His sister Neema also has her own Instagram account with almost 65,000 followers. Even though the two are yet to make money from their videos, they are expecting offers from Bollywood. Last December, local media from India reported that the two may soon star in their films.
“We come from a small village outside of the city, so I never thought my dreams to be an actress and to be in front of the camera would ever happen. I just kept that in my heart,” Neema was quoted by BBC that month. “To get the chance to travel to India would be amazing.”