Paula Eggertsen, a close friend to Sipoi and former member of Woodland Park Zoo’s education staff, writes this tribute. We welcome you to share your thoughts and memories of Sipoi in the comments section.
Tribute to my “olalashe,” Sammy Kiako Ole Sipoi
Posted by: Paula Eggertsen
The interpretation of cultural values and traditions is nearly impossible, particularly when you’re comparing cultures as different as a pastoralist and a capitalist society. What can easily translate are the qualities of human kindness. Sipoi embodied kindness.
When I first met Sipoi in Kenya in 2004, he rode the bus to Nairobi to greet my sister and me. It took Sipoi three hours of bus transfers, bumpy roads, and walking through a city wearing his traditional clothing to greet us. He immediately was attentive and thoughtful and surprised us by clearly speaking occasional English words. He was obviously extremely connected to his fellow warriors, to his family and to the Merrueshi community.
When we visited Merrueshi, he took us on long walks on the savanna, made sure that we had enough water, shade, that we weren’t trapped in the many acacia thorns, and that we had access to our cameras and backpacks containing various creams and lotions. He was amused by our poor night vision, but protected us from walking directly into bushes, holes and other obstacles at night. We were clearly out of our element and he took care of us.
(Sipoi pictured here in the middle.)
It was an honor when he gave both my sister and me Maasai names. Both in Kenya and in Seattle he referred to me as “enganashe,” or his sister. This was the ultimate honor to be considered a family member.
The closeness of communities whose members are part of a whole and look out for the well being of the group is something unique and wonderful. Sipoi and the Merrueshi community demonstrate values that would benefit our lives in America.
The loss of Sipoi is great on so many levels. He was a wonderful human, a husband and father, a comrade, an important community member, and a cross-cultural ambassador. He was extremely intelligent, well-educated, and held so much promise for great things to come.
I will miss my “olalashe” (brother) greatly. I am certain that members of his community are grief-stricken and suffering from his sudden loss. My heart goes out to my dear friend Kakuta, to Sipoi’s family, to his fellow warriors, and all who had the good fortune to know him well.
If you would like to contribute a memorial donation to Sipoi’s family, you can send a check made out to: Maasai Association, PO Box 868, Medina, WA 98039.