Exotic places; Maasai, photographs by Carol Beckwith, text by Tepilit Ole Saitoti. New York: Harry N. Abrams Inc. $40.

Few who live in or visit East Africa ever forget the Maasai. These are the tall, proud, primitive tribesmen of the Great Rift Valley in Kenya and Tanzania. They are keepers of cattle, each of which is known and loved as a family loves and tends its children. (The Maasai literally believe all cattle on earth belong to them, so when they go on a raid against others, the object is to regain herds they think were stolen from them in the historic past.) The men also are warriors highly respected by other Africans.

The Maasai make almost no concessions to modern life, but Tepilit Ole Saitori is an educated Maasai who writes with beauty and clarity of his people's society. At first glance, one might expect to look mainly at Carol Beckwith's magnificent color photos, which catch the essence of Maasai life as only one who has lived among them could do. But this reviewer found himself repeatedly drawn back to the Saitoti text, so full of fascinating nuggest of information about a people whose life pattern remains much as it was thousands of years ago. This is a work to be treasured.

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