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History of the Trust

The Joseph Thomson Maasai Trust was formed in 2016 following a series of events which brought together local activists in Penpont, members of the Thomson family and the Maasai of Kajiado County in Kenya, Africa:

  • The Penpont Local Heritage Centre, created by the Joseph Thomson Group, opened in the birthplace of Joseph Thomson in April 2014.

  • Members of the Thomson family were contacted and attended the opening.

  • The Joseph Thomson Group was contacted by Ezekiel ole Katato, a Maasai elder who was aware that Thomson had passed through his village and wished to organise a walk in his footsteps. Ezekiel visited  Penpont from Africa in 2015.

  • Members of the family took part in the first and second walks organised and led by Maasai, involving a walk of 80km taking in Amboseli National Park and ending in Ezekiel's village. 

  • Ezekiel attended the launch of the Trust in Penpont in October 2016.


The Trust aims to promote awareness of the life, legacy and inspiration of Joseph Thomson (1858-1895).

We aim to develop our links with Ezekiel and his people in Africa, and to help him in his community work. To this end we have decided to concentrate on raising funds to help his organisation promote the education of girls.

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Joseph Thomson 1858-1895 Explorer:

"He who goes gently goes safely; he who goes safely goes far"

Joseph Thomson was born on 14 February 1858 in the village of Penpont in Dumfriesshire. On graduating from Edinburgh University he joined an expedition to East Africa organised by the Royal Scottish Geographical Society as a geologist, but on the death of the leader he took over. He played an important part in the  'Scramble for Africa' leading six expeditions into previously unchartered lands. He opened up new routes to Lake Nyasa and Victoria, mapped huge expanses of modern day Kenya and made many scientific discoveries.

His third expedition in 1884 saw him attempt to cross Maasailand which was key to opening up East Africa but which had previiously proved impossible due to the ferocious Maasai who resisted any incursion onto their land.

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Thomson's peaceful approach proved successful. He is remembered to this day by the Maasai who learn about his respect for their culture and about his powers of persuasion which often involved tricks such as false teeth and effervescent salts. His book "Through Maasai Land" published in 1885 is a fascinating account of his adventures.

Thomson went on to lead expeditions to other parts of Africa before dying in 1895 aged 37, worn down by injuries and illnesses sustained on his journeys. He was feted by society and befriended by many including JM Barrie, but has been all but forgotten except in his home village where the Joseph Thomson Group who run the Penpont Local Heritage Centre keep his memory alive, and by the Joseph Thomson Maasai Trust involving family members and friends.

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Ola Kira Le Maa:

OLM is best described in the words of its founder, Maasai elder Ezekiel ole Katato, so most of what follows is taken from his paper on the aims of his organisation. The organisation is non-profit making and Ezekiel takes no salary.

OLM is a community based organisation structured to build long lasting institutional and cultural independence. Through this effort the community will be able to take responsibility for their future rather than depend on national government or charities.

To achieve this goal the organisation supports education, particularly that of girls. More than 80% of Maasai women will have no education. Most will be circumcised at puberty and married at a very young age to a man chosen by their father, one of several wives and destined to have many children.

The Maasai are a noble and dignified people who have proudly maintained their nomadic way of life, living in small villages and dependent on their cattle and goats. Unfortunately this means that the cultural pressures against the education of women are overwhelming.

This includes:

  1. Extramarital pregnancy is seen as a disgrace and since girls cannot live in the family home after puberty, they are very vulnerable.

  2. Her family does not benefit from a girl's education once she is married.

  3. Cattle and cash dowries are paid to her family on her marriage.

  4. A woman is valued by the number of children she has.

Through the community suitable girls are identified and sent to boarding school and their progress monitored. Seminars with older women help to demonstrate the value of education and gain support for change. 

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2014       Walk with the Maasai in Kenya

2015       Visit to Penpont by Ezekiel ole Katato

2015       Walk with the Maasai 

2016       Dinner in Glasgow addressed by Ezekiel ole Katato

2017       Hill Run and family run in the area around Penpont finishing at the birthplace of Joseph Thomson

2017       Talk in Edinburgh by Hamish Brown on Thomson's exploration of the Atlas Mountains

2017       Dumfries Arts Festival. Play on Life of Thomson

2018/19 Talks given on walks with the Maasai by our chairman

2019       Dinner held in Glasgow

2019/20 Ceilidh held by Trustee 

2020/22  Hold on events due to Covid

2023        Pete's cycle of the 8 river valleys of Dumfries & Galloway



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How to Support the Trust:

Make a donation (Link will follow soon) 

Organise a small - or large - function/event  of your choice

Become a member - £10 per annum. 

Leave a legacy in your will.

Please help us support our Maasai Friends in Joseph Thomson's name



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