The Maasai and colostrum
Cows mean life itself for the proud Maasai people of Kenya and Tanzania. They provide milk, meat, blood and leather, and are people’s most important form of wealth – on the hoof.
Milk is central to the daily diet, more crucial than meat which is not eaten every day. It is drunk fresh or fermented, rather like yoghourt. And every Maasai knows that the most important milk of all is colostrum, because it’s full of goodness and antibodies that help to build up strength and prevent sickness. They call it i-sikitok.
“Parents encourage children to take colostrum for strength and bravery, either mixed with herbs or straight from the cow,” says Partalala Ole Kamuaro, a researcher from Narok, Kenya.
Their use of colostrum, from birth to the grave, may help to explain why many Maasai are so tough and healthy – particularly those who are teetotal and have not switched to a western diet full of processed foods. Non-smoking elders who stay off the whisky often live well into their 90s and over 100.
Younger people swear by colostrum, too. John Ole Karia is 54 and a council officer from Enaiborrajijik, near Naivasha. He says: “I take two litres of colostrum every day, one in the morning and one in the evening, straight from the cow when it’s hot. I’ve taken it all my life. With colostrum you don’t feel the cold, you don’t get sick, you don’t even get the common cold. I think it keeps me young!
“It makes me very full for about five minutes, and after that it makes me feel very fresh.”
Colostrum is both food and medicine to the Maasai. It is either drunk straight, or mixed with herbs to make it taste better.
“It does not taste great, but taste is second to function,” says Ole Kamuaro. “Children are fed colostrum and cow’s milk until the age of three or four, as supplements to breast milk. As a baby, I was fed on it too. I carried on taking it until I was about 10 years old – each time our cows calved, there I was with a tin in my hand, taking and liking colostrum to the last drop!”
The Maasai even sing songs in praise of colostrum. Warriors used to boast, after raiding cattle, that their cows’ colostrum was the best and most satisfying.
Historian of the Maasai, University of Oxford, 2002