Masaai Plastic Bottle Cordage

The old Masaai man was standing on the dirt road waving his hand. I stopped and he jumped in the car.

It soon became clear he could speak no English but was an enthusiastic pointer! He travelled with us a long way with lots of happy non-verbal communication, but we had no idea where he was going!  Mind you we hadn’t set the gps to where we were going either. By some crazy coincidence he pointed and guided us to our campsite. Then he proceed to happily sit in the back of our car. Being British is terrible in these sorts of situations. We could easily have had to adopt him for life, rather than deal with the awkwardness of having to get him out of the car. He didn’t look quite as crazy as the photo suggests!


Fortunately another Masaai approached the car. “Hey, that’s my uncle!, where did you find him?’ Apparently we had rescued uncle from a long dark walk potentially past lions and hyenas. We were invited to the Masaai village the next evening. Wilson, the nephew was to guide us around Amboseli Game Reserve the next day. He complained that uncle had bored them with stories about us all evening. Wilson had grazed his cattle all around the park . He would tell us about how by those trees, lions had killed two of his cows when he was looking after them alone aged 10. His father had been very angry with him ! Incredible stories of a hard life. It was a truly wonderful day.


This blog isn’t about that though it’s about rubbish science. In the area around the camp there was a lot of Rubbish, but also some use of bottles

In the evening we went to the Village. A traditional ‘boma’ surrounded by a barrier of thorns. The goats and cows kept in the middle at night. Masaai houses made from wood and cow dung are ringed around the cow pens inside the thorn layer. We are greeted warmly with a traditional Masaai welcome. Wilson showed us the herbs they use including one for ‘man power’ .  ‘This plant is for men who have many wives. If you only have one wife it is a curse!’ We are then shown how to make fire using sticks and elephant dung. These people clearly  understand the fire triangle and friction as in a minute they have a fire lit! With the proximity of all the animals,  flies abound. The Masaai seem oblivious to them.

Wilson with the fly trap

Wilson with the fly trap

Wilson seemed interested with the bottle fly trap but it hasn’t really grabbed him. I want to see compost bins, micro gardening – growing plants like spinach in plastic bottles ! Things that will not dramatically change their lifestyle, but enhance it. I’ve only got a very short time and although valuable these things don’t have a high immediate impact. I need to capture their attention. How could I get their attention? Plastic Bottle Cordage. Using a craft blade mounted between washers you can cut a continuous thin strip from a plastic bottle to make cord. The jig costs pence to make and can produce 15 metres per 2 litre plastic bottle. Thanks to this site on Instructables for giving the idea. The cord is too strong to break by hand. This really captured the attention of the Masaai men (sadly I didn’t have any time with the women) They all wanted a go and there was lots of excitement and typical male banter. It is fairly easy to do, though some bottles can be too thin to get consistent thickness cord from. There are many opportunities to experiment to find the ‘best’ bottles and to refine the jig. If anyone has any ideas please share them. The next day we met Wilson who said they had been up all evening making rope. Finding out how to make it thinner and thicker and searching for more plastic bottles. Some women had been investigating how to use them for handicrafts. Wilson then pointed out that it was perfect for some kind of contraceptive device, but we didn’t ask him to expand on this! Result: For short term impact the cordage is ideal. It instantly gives them something useful for very little input. Long term the micro gardening will potentially have more impact, but I think it’s better to follow up with those ideas when you already have them hooked. The Masaai people are wonderful !

Heather Sharp