The Chairman and The Lions (2013)

Directed by Peter Biella
Produced by Frank Kaipai Ikoyo, Juma Mriga, Kelly Askew, Howard Stein
Edited by Peter Biella & Daniel Chein

Distributed by Documentary Educational Resources


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. Like leaders of many indigenous groups, Ikoyo understands education to be a double-edged sword. He advocates schooling as a key to village self-determination, while still seeking to preserve the foundations of pastoralist identity. For as one Maasai woman argues, schooling may well transform their children into “educated criminals.” 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.


First Prize, ETNOFilm Festival, 2013

Official Selection

Jean Rouch International Film Festival, 2013
Zanzibar International Film Festival, 2013