LONDON: “The eye that leaves the village sees further” according to a Maasai proverb.
In that case, Sonyanga Ole Ngais sees a long way.
Resplendent in red traditional robes, the captain of a cricket team made up of Kenyan Maasai warriors cut a distinctive figure in London’s West End on Monday as a documentary about his side’s exploits received its premiere.
“Warriors”, whose executive producer is England paceman James Anderson, charts how the players, introduced to the sport in 2007 by South African enthusiast Aliya Bauer, grow to love the game and even take part in a global amateur tournament at cricket’s spiritual home Lord’s.
The film is full of arresting imagery, be it the scenes of the Maasai’s native remote central highlands of Laikipia or the sight of the team, who play in their traditional dress rather than conventional cricket whites, walking through the Long Room at the British ground.
There are also moments of humour, as when an officer connected to the British Army Training Unit in Kenya, who helped provide the Warriors with an artificial pitch to train on, says: “It’s got a bit of a slope but, then again, so has Lord’s.”
However, much of Warriors is devoted to the team’s attempts to get their tribal elders to abandon the traditional practice of female genital mutilation.
The often deadly practice, which ranges from slicing off the clitoris to the mutilation and removal of the entire female genitalia, is banned in Kenya but still regularly carried out.
The combination of cricket and social activism might seem jarring to audiences used to legions of high-profile players who confine their public remarks to nothing more controversial than bland reflections on the match they’ve just played.
But for Warriors skipper Sonyanga one leads naturally to the other.
“In our society, the women or the girls are treated as inferior, and it’s no good,” Sonyanga said at the premiere.
“We are not saying we abandon all our good culture, only the harmful practices such as female genital mutilation.
“It is very hard to go against the elders, but cricket is giving us that courage, and that confidence. We are very proud of what it means to be Maasai and that is why we play in our traditional robes.”
In the audience at Soho’s Curzon Cinema on Monday was former England captain Michael Atherton, who congratulated British director Barney Douglas for a “visually stunning” film on Twitter.
Dressed in striking colourful bead necklaces, with some in headdresses, the team, who mostly come from Il Polei village near Mount Kenya, also wear standard cricketing kit of gloves and shin pads.
It was a picture of one of the players hitting a ball that is said to have drawn first-time director Douglas, who spent several years working for the website of the England and Wales Cricket Board.
“I’ve known Barney for a few years through his involvement in cricket,” said executive producer Anderson, explaining his connection to the documentary.
“I don’t know if he asked me as such but we were talking about it and it was something that straight away I really liked.”
Anderson, set to feature against Australia in the second Ashes Test at Lord’s on Thursday, said he saw the film as a way “to do some good” through the game, saying it had been “very kind” to him during his 14 years as a professional player.
“Some guys (in the Warriors’ team) travel for four hours on a motorbike to practise every week with their cricket bag on their back.
“Just seeing that passion for the sport that I love reminded me of why I started playing cricket.”