THE CHAIRMAN AND THE LIONS
Peter Biella | Tanzania, USA 2012 | 46 Min. | OmeU
As recently as forty years ago, most sections of the Maasai were semi-nomadic and relatively independent of the nation-state. However, political, social and economic changes in East Africa have forced many herders to adopt a sedentary lifestyle. The Chairman and the Lions introduces Frank Kaipai Ikoyo, a charismatic Ilparakuyo Maasai who, at thirty-three, is the leader of a Tanzanian village called Lesoit. Ikoyo was elected to his post at the age of twenty-six in part because he had completed primary school. That someone so young would be accorded such authority would have been without precedent not long ago. Yet this ethnography of Ikoyo’s duties as village chairman shows how literacy and insight into the workings of the nation-state are essential for Maasai to combat the many lions, both real and figurative, that beset them: land grabbers, “bush” lawyers, unemployment, out-migration and poverty.
The film depicts Ikoyo contending with the invasion of village land by a non-Maasai farmer, interrogating spies in a lawsuit, persuading mothers to send their daughters to school, navigating the legalese of an exploitative contract, and eliciting help from a renowned elder to train young warriors in the art of lion hunting. The Chairman and the Lions interweaves its observational vignettes of Ikoyo’s activities with narrative accounts by the chairman himself.