Maasai on the phone: materiality, tourism, and the extraordinary in Zanzibar

Nir Avieli, Tsahala Sermoneta

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Thousands of Maasai men have been flocking in recent years to the island of Zanzibar to take part in the burgeoning tourism industry. Many are employed as guards and security personnel. Others roam the beaches, selling souvenirs and touting tourist services, while some are involved in sex-tourism. In this article, we show how these men skillfully employ their traditional materiality: red robes, swords, daggers, clubs, beaded sandals and jewelry, as well as their own muscular bodies, so as to construct an extraordinary image, which they use to attract the attention of tourists and promote their businesses. Concomitantly, their use of modern material objects, such as mobile phones and stylish sunglasses, undermines their extraordinary image, making their presence mundane and even disturbing, to the extent of being accused by some Tanzanians and tourists of faking Maasai identity. We conclude by arguing that material objects and the ways in which they are used may define people as ordinary and extraordinary at the same time. Materiality therefore underlies a complex, dynamic, and ambiguous perception of the extraordinary in contemporary tourism.

Original languageEnglish
Article number117
JournalHumanities and Social Sciences Communications
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Business, Management and Accounting
  • General Arts and Humanities
  • General Social Sciences
  • General Psychology
  • Economics, Econometrics and Finance (all)


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