Young Maasai warriors kill lions as a rite of passage. But two young tribesmen wanted instead to hit the books and so fought against tradition, as well as their parents, to put themselves through school.
"We are warriors of education," declares Wilson Meikuaya, a native of Kenya whose book, The Last Maasai Warriors, co-written with Jackson Ntrikana, documents a journey from cattle herding to classroom hunting in the 21st century.
"That's the kind of leadership we need now," he continues during a recent interview held in advance of the duo's coming appearance at We Day in Toronto.
"We Maasai need doctors and lawyers and teachers and leaders who can help us today. It's still our heritage we are protecting. But we do it in a new way."
Mr. Meikuaya and Mr. Ntrikana, known more familiarly as Wilson and Jackson, share their passion for educating youth around the world. Both have worked with We Day since the inaugural event in 2007, volunteering as guides on the ground in Kenya, and teachers in challenged communities. Both have university degrees in botany and live and work in their traditional semi-nomadic Maasai homeland.
There they have helped to build schools and have advocated for the education of girls in Maasai society. Access to clean water and health care are also high on their list of priorities. This is their third time being in North America for We Day.
Says Mr. Ntrikana, "We are the first generation to go to school and now we want others to go to school. We want girls to go to school and for this we have gone to the elders to get them to understand why it is important. Education is for the future of our people."
The elders have listened. But not without a fight.
Mr. Meikuaya actually had to kill a lion to get to high school. If he hadn't speared the beast he would have defied Maasai custom and alienated himself from the very community he wanted to help with his new-found knowledge.
When he made the kill he recalls being so excited because it meant that the doors to his future would now open.
His father, satisfied his son had fulfilled his duty as a member of the tribe, sold off his livestock to get his son the education he so desired. Mr. Meikuaya, like Mr. Ntrikana, has never seen it other than as a privilege.
"We appreciate it," Mr. Ntrikana says. "And so we want to give back to our community," adds Mr. Meikuaya, describing how a modern-day warrior says thank you.