Story transcripts

Meet the white Masai

Sunday, October 29, 2006
Reporter: Tara Brown
Producer: Stephen Taylor

It's an astonishing story of love at first sight. So astonishing, it would become a best-selling book and a hit movie, fascinating readers and audiences around the world.

She was white, well-educated, from wealthy Switzerland. He was a Masai warrior from a remote village in the poorest part of Kenya. They didn't speak the same language, they knew nothing about each other, yet, from the first glance, they just clicked.

It sounds like a Mills and Boon romance, doesn't it, except every word of it is true, even down to the white wedding and a beautiful baby daughter. But now there's a new twist — the surprising final chapter of the white Masai.

Transcript

TARA BROWN: It's easy to see why so many lose their hearts to Africa. But the romance of Swiss woman Corinne Hoffman and her Kenyan warrior Lketinga shows just how opposites attract and the astonishing power of love at first sight.

CORINNE HOFMANN: I turned my head. I looked at him and I fall in love. Really, in one second. My whole life was changed in one second.

TARA BROWN: Everybody falls for a good love story but this one is truly extraordinary. On the surface it might seem like a bit of a holiday fantasy, a crush on an exotic Masai warrior she sees across a crowded ferry. But Corinne Hoffman's feelings here in Africa were instant and unshakable. In a moment, nothing and nobody else mattered. Their remarkable relationship has been turned into a feature film. Just as it happened in real life, the film captures the moment love struck. For Corinne, holidaying in Mobassa with her boyfriend, it was the last thing this Swiss woman expected.

CORINNE HOFMANN: I didn't think that I go to Kenya and I will fall in love with a black man there from the Masai tribe, no, never, never.

TARA BROWN: So you weren't going there looking for love then?

CORINNE HOFMANN: No, no. No. I was really in love with my boyfriend.

TARA BROWN: Lketinga is a Samburu, the most proud and striking of all the Masai tribes.

CORINNE HOFMANN: I just watching this man and think he looked so beautiful and it was something special. I can't tell you. I never felt this feeling before in my life, never. I just knew everything will change in my life.

TARA BROWN: Corinne did return to Switzerland with only photos of Lketinga, no address, no phone number. But, despite the comfort of home, her business and her boyfriend, she couldn't forget the warrior. After six months, she sacrificed everything without knowing anything to search for him. You sell up everything, you change your life on an impulse. You don't know what this man thinks or how he feels about you.

CORINNE HOFMANN: I was completely changed. Even my mother told me, 'I don't recognise you any more'.

TARA BROWN: Because if one of your friends did that you would think she was crazy, wouldn't you?

CORINNE HOFMANN: Yeah, of course. Everybody told me, 'What is happening with you? You can't survive in a lifestyle like this'. I told them, 'Listen, I have to go to see this man'. I can't sleep any more. I didn't eat any more. Nothing, nothing.

TARA BROWN: So what happened when you returned to Kenya?

CORINNE HOFMANN: He was not around.

TARA BROWN: Lketinga had left the big city of Mombassa for his tribal village in Barsaloi. As a white woman, Corinne was a curious sight as her heart took her to the remotest part of Kenya. After three months and thousands of kilometres, she finally found Lketinga.

CORINNE HOFMANN: And he was so surprised and then he started laughing. And told me, 'I know if you love me, you will come and find me everywhere. And now you stay here and you will be my wife'. And this was the most magic moment in my life.

TARA BROWN: What was it about him that attracted you so much?

CORINNE HOFMANN: I mean, it was everything. From the first moment I felt safe if he is around. You know, we had some lions in front of our small huts. He said, 'Don't worry, I am here I have my two spears', and really I believe him.

TARA BROWN: And can he use them?

CORINNE HOFMANN: Yeah. Really, and he had already used this so I really felt safe.

TARA BROWN: It could have only been love to choose a life this different and this difficult. When you saw the village for the first time, did you at that point go, 'What have I done? What am I doing here?'

CORINNE HOFMANN: No, no, no.

TARA BROWN: You thought, 'I could live like this?'

CORINNE HOFMANN: Yeah, I was sure. I was sure even before I reached the village, I was sure. If I would get him something, in any place, I would like to stay with him.

TARA BROWN: You couldn't get much different, could you?

CORINNE HOFMANN: No. Maybe in the moon. I don't know.

TARA BROWN: On the moon?

CORINNE HOFMANN: Yeah, maybe.

TARA BROWN: The cow dung and mud hut was home sweet home for the happy couple. It would be hard to find anything more basic — dirt floors, smoky open fire, sharing with your mother-in-law and countless overnight guests all in a hut I can barely stand in. And this is the extent of it — something like 4 x 4m. No furniture, no kitchen, as we know it, and no bathroom. I don't know how she did it.

CORINNE HOFMANN: Of course, we didn't have running water. We didn't have toilets. We have to collect the water far from the river.

TARA BROWN: Did you have any idea what it meant to be a Samburu wife?

CORINNE HOFMANN: I think, not really.

TARA BROWN: Because this was a culture that has very little value for women. We're talking about female circumcision, we're talking about multiple wives. We're talking about a culture where men and women don't even eat together or kiss one another on the lips.

CORINNE HOFMANN: I was shocked. I think, 'No, I don't want to share him with other wives!' And, in the end, I have to accept this. This is the same. If you want to stay with him, you have to accept or you go.

DESMOND MORRIS: Any European woman who decides to penetrate the Samburu culture is, in my opinion, courageous and courage and stupidity are only a whisker apart.

TARA BROWN: British zoologist and anthropologist Desmond Morris made a name for himself with his book The Naked Ape. But he is also one of the few white men to encounter the Samburu tribe close up, filming them for this documentary.

DESMOND MORRIS: When you first set eyes on a Samburu, they are dramatic human beings.

TARA BROWN: So the emotion Corinne felt at that moment, would that have been love or would that have been lust?

DESMOND MORRIS: I think it would have been a shock at seeing such a beautiful man. It would almost be like seeing a masterpiece painting. But I would have said that when you think of the sexist nature of this culture, where women are simply possessions, she would live in a world which, for an educated European woman, I would have thought would have been utterly intolerable, and I suppose you could just say it shows the strength of love at first sight.

TARA BROWN: A year after meeting, Lketinga and Corinne got married in 1988. As their home video shows, it was a traditional Samburu wedding, except the bride wore white.

CORINNE HOFMANN: I felt good.

TARA BROWN: And what was Lketinga's reaction to your white dress?

CORINNE HOFMANN: For him, it was very, very funny.

TARA BROWN: As modern-minded as this warrior was to even marry a white woman, there were cultural clashes. There's no delicate way to put this, but Lketinga saw the bedroom as a place for procreation, not pleasure. Now, tell me about the sex.

CORINNE HOFMANN: This is not the same like European sex — they are completely different. You don't kiss. You can't touch parts of the body. Here, yeah, you have playing, hours of hours. Forget it. It is not like this.

TARA BROWN: Did you educate him?

CORINNE HOFMANN: I can tell you, in the end, he learns kissing. This I can tell you.

TARA BROWN: For a while, love did conquer all — three near-fatal bouts of malaria, isolation and poverty. And, in return, Lketinga and Corinne had a baby daughter they named Napirai. Were you frightened of being pregnant in that place?

CORINNE HOFMANN: Oh, I was happy. I think I was the happiest woman all over the world, the happiest pregnant woman, yeah.

TARA BROWN: Corinne Hoffman had completely adapted to her Kenyan way of life, even her new family proudly described her as the 'white Masai'. But her relationship with Lketinga was starting to unravel and not because of their cultural differences. The stuff that was tearing them apart can and does affect any marriage anywhere. Lketinga had started to drink too much and he had become insanely jealous.

CORINNE HOFMANN: Once he really started to talk 'You had an affair with this boy!' I told him, 'You are crazy'. He said, 'What? You call me crazy?'

TARA BROWN: At this point, did you still love him at all?

CORINNE HOFMANN: No, no. At this point, no. I just want to go because I fear my life. Sometimes if he came drunk at home, this was very hard. And I was sad because I think, 'How can change such big love?'

TARA BROWN: Beautiful photos of your daughter.

CORINNE HOFMANN: This is my daughter if she was very young. Now, of course, she's 17 years old.

TARA BROWN: Four years after meeting Lketinga, after falling blindly and uncontrollably in love, Corinne fled Kenya with her daughter and memories she still clearly cherishes.

CORINNE HOFMANN: This is the smelling of the hut there. I like it.

TARA BROWN: Okay. Hmm. It's very ripe. It's when you're back in Legano, in Switzerland, with Corinne that you understand she has lived in two completely different worlds.

CORINNE HOFMANN: This is not like in Kenya.

TARA BROWN: I was going to say, it's so different. To make sense of her failed relationship and all she experienced in Africa, Corinne wrote The White Masai, a huge hit, which has sold more than four million copies. But there is a final, moving chapter in this love story.

CORINNE HOFMANN: I was so nervous because I didn't know what will happen to me and I didn't know how was his reaction.

TARA BROWN: Two years ago, Corinne summoned the strength to return to the tiny village, hoping to make peace with Lketinga.

CORINNE HOFMANN: He was waiting there. And this part I hear his sound. He was laughing, 'Oh my wife! You are becoming bigger and older'. For me, you see, he is loving it. This was so, so great. He just hugged me. You see how he loved.

TARA BROWN: Uncertain of how Lketinga would react, Corinne had travelled to Kenya alone, leaving their shy teenage daughter Napirai at home in Switzerland. Despite interest in her story, she shuns the spotlight. Does she want to see her father?

CORINNE HOFMANN: Of course she wants to see her father. Not now, because I still wait until she's an adult, 18 years.

TARA BROWN: Did he understand why you had left? Did he forgive you for taking your daughter?

CORINNE HOFMANN: He told me, 'Yes, I was crazy at this time. I don't know why I was so crazy. Now I'm okay. Maybe you stay again with me. Now I am okay'.

TARA BROWN: Did you think about it?

CORINNE HOFMANN: No, no, no.

TARA BROWN: Corinne Hoffman is one independent woman, someone who trusts in her own emotions, who is happy to follow her heart, not her head. And the years have done nothing to change her. At 46, she may be single, but not cynical.

CORINNE HOFMANN: Now I think this is, for us, a happy end, even without love, but it is a happy ending.
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