By Peter Muiruri
He manoeuvres the vehicle out of the muddy crocodile infested river with the ease of a veteran. His driving skill earns him hearty applauses from his passengers after every turn. His mastery of the wild has made him a darling of many visitors to Naboisho Conservancy in the Mara.
Meet Raphael Rotiken, a driver and tour guide with Ol Seki Hemingway Mara. Clad in his traditional regalia, Rotiken, 21, could as well be a Maasai moran busy partaking of all the rites of passage that characterise this group. However, he has chosen to engage in a profession many of his contemporaries find untenable.
But Rotiken is a converted man. He says he understands how important wildlife conservation is and cannot prove his manhood through killing a wild animal.
“There is no way I will take a spear and kill a lion or any other wild animal for that matter since I am now personally involved in their protection. In fact, I would have a big problem with anyone spearing the lions to satisfy cultural expectations. I now see the connection between these animals and the community’s wellbeing,” he says.
He says he could have chosen the life of moranism at the expense of education and implores his peers to follow his footsteps.
“Of course this does not mean losing one’s social identity. It’s halting any rite of passage that may harm the country’s wildlife heritage such as killing of lions. Most of my friends are already married after passing through these rites but as you can see I am still single for a good course,” he says.
According to Rotiken, the existence of his community is tied to wildlife conservation. At Naboisho Conservancy, the local community has joined hands with other environmentalists to conserve wildlife while the community uses part of the grounds for grazing their animals.
While growing up in his Ng’osuani village which is adjacent to the world famous Maasai Mara Game Reserve, Rotiken nursed the desire to become a tour guide.
The tour drivers and guides were his role models and the ‘only prominent’ people he knew.
“I admired them as they headed to the Mara. Sometimes I would help push tour vans out of the mud and get some sweets either from the tourists or drivers. This strengthened my desire to one day be the one behind the wheel.”
With this goal firmly fixed in his mind, Raphael enrolled at the local primary school, thanks to his father who had a soft spot for education. Walking the nine kilometres from home, braving wild animals and crossing swollen rivers was treacherous but not insurmountable. Yet, this was better than the alternative – looking after his father’s livestock all day.