You’ve never seen a sports team like this one and you probably won’t again.
Across the Kenyan savannah, Maasai Warriors in traditional clothing – plaid red fabrics and colourful accessories made of feathers and beads – are playing a sport known for its stiffness and uniform whites: cricket.
The object of The Maasai Cricket Warriors isn’t to win any big tournament, or even to go professional. The object of the heroic male side is to raise awareness of eradicating female genital mutilation, which has affected girls as young as six in the community.
The Warriors are the subject of the deeply moving new documentary film Warriors by British director Barney Douglas. It follows the Maasai players from their home village of Il Polei to London for their first cricket championship.
Warriors captain Sonyanga Ole Ngais knew all too well the pain and suffering of FGM, as he witnessed three of his sisters undergo the practice.
Once girls in the village are circumcised, they’re considered ready for marriage and their education ends abruptly.
Knowledge of FGM was one of many challenges facing Douglas and his team.
“To be fair when I started I was ignorant of it,” Douglas admits. “I didn’t know anything about it. I thought I was going to follow this new, exciting cricket team made of Maasai Warriors and then I realised there was a lot more to the story.“
The director adds: “It was an introduction to the issue, but it’s their story. I didn’t go into it with an agenda or know anything about it, it was very much about the team.”
According to FORWARD UK, 60,000 girls in the UK under the age of 15 are at risk of FGM, while 137,000 British girls and women are living with its consequences. In total, over 130 million girls and women worldwide have undergone the practice.
The onus is therefore on the men in tribes like the Maasai to help achieve equality for the women who have suffered FGM. Douglas believes it’s the confidence you get out of sport that accelerates moves towards that equality. But the biggest challenge for the tribe is to convince the elders that what they are trying to achieve is the right thing to do.
“I do think their world Is changing,” Douglas ponders. “I think that makes you vulnerable as well.
“You don’t want to go against change, but it’s making it harder for the tribes. You can see the Elders are struggling with change, and the young people are trying to find their place in the village.
“I believe sport has brought good things to the village, it brings strength to the area and cohesiveness. In that respect, I think sport has been really important to the area.”
The poignant documentary finishes with a conversation between the village elders and the players, perched on a flat rock and looking into the Kenyan savannah, as members of the old generation and the new engage in a civil debate about the tradition of FGM.
Hopefully a sign of changing times for the better.
WARRIORS is available on DVD and iTunes from 25 January 2016 www.warriorsfilm.co.uk #WakeTheLion
Loaded sports writer Pearse Corcoran has covered news, sport and entertainment for several national newspapers and radio stations in Ireland. Follow him on Twitter at @PearseCorcoran