Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : May 29th 2013 Contents B8
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Imagine a Maasai warrior, or
a Maasai woman adorned with
beads---it s one of the most pow-
erful images of tribal Africa.
Dozens of companies use it to
sell products---but Maasai elders
are now considering seeking pro-
tection for their "brand."
Dressed in smart white checked
shirt and grey sweater, you d hardly
know Isaac ole Tialolo is Maasai.
The large round holes in his
ears---where his jewelry sometimes
sits---might be a clue, though.
Isaac is a Maasai leader and
elder. Back home in the mountains
near Naivasha, in southern Kenya,
he lives a semi-nomadic life, herd-
ing sheep, goats, and---most
But Isaac is also chair of a new
organisation, the Maasai Intellec-
tual Property Initiative, and it s a
project that s beginning to take
him around the world---including,
most recently, London.
"We all know that we have been
exploited by people who just come
around, take our pictures and ben-
efit from it," he says.
"We have been exploited by so
many things you cannot imagine."
Crunch time for Isaac came
about 20 years ago, when a tourist
took a photo of him, without ask-
ing permission---something the
Maasai, are particularly sensitive
"We believed that if somebody
takes your photograph, he has
already taken your blood," he
Isaac was so furious that he
smashed the tourist s camera.
Twenty years later, he is mild-
mannered and impeccably turned
out---but equally passionate about
what he sees as the use, and abuse,
of his culture.
"I think people need to under-
stand the culture of the others and
respect it," he says.
"You should not use it to your
own benefit, leaving the commu-
nity---or the owner of the cul-
"If you just take what belongs
to somebody, and go and display
it and have your fortune, then it
is very wrong. It is very wrong,"
According to Light Years IP---
an NGO which specialises in
securing intellectual property
rights in developing countries---
about 80 companies around the
world are currently using either
the Maasai image or name.
These include a range of acces-
sories called Masai made for Land
Rover; Masai Barefoot Technology,
which makes speciality trainers;
and high-end fashion house Louis
Vuitton which has a Masai line,
including beach towels, hats,
scarves and duffle bags.
"It s almost certainly the biggest
cultural brand in the world," argues
Ron Layton, the founder and head
of Light Years IP.
"It ranks right up there. It s a
"Those companies may be using
the Maasai brand in ways that
really do enhance their business,
so it s reasonable for the Maasai
to say, Well, why aren t you com-
ing to talk to us? Why aren t you
asking our permission? Why don t
you engage with us? " says Layton.
But the reality is there has never
been a single, unified Maasai body
for companies to approach to seek
permission---though that could
Light Years IP is involved in a
niche---but growing---area of
development policy, known as
"intellectual property value cap-
The argument is that intellectual
property rules offer the potential
to provide a valuable source of
income for people in developing
countries, who tend to get only a
small sliver of the profits made
on their goods on the international
If the Maasai "brand" were
owned by a corporation, it would
be worth more than $10 million
(£6.6m) a year---perhaps even
"tens of millions", according to
Layton. How much of this the
Maasai might be able to claim
would be up to negotiation.
"It s time the world sat up and
took notice," says Lord Boateng,
a member of the UK s House of
Lords, whose grandfather was a
cocoa farmer in Ghana. "It s an
idea whose time has come."
Boateng is on the board of
directors of the newly-created
African IP Trust, which has taken
on the Maasai as one of its first
"They are not getting value.
Their image is being abused," says
"The Maasai are an ancient and
sophisticated people---they know
they are being ripped off and they
want this to stop."
• Continues on Page 9
Brand Maasai: Why nomads
might trademark their name
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