MAASAI, by Teplit Ole Saitoti. Photographs and drawings by Carol Beckwith (Abrams, $40). Maasai warrior Teplit Ole Saitoti has given to us and to his people the written record of their dying culture. His unadorned prose records on rough brown pages the life cycle of the Maasai tribesman, proud and unvanquished in a world bent upon his absorption. Beckwith's intimate photographs of the rituals, celebrations and daily life of the Maasai provide a visual narrative that beautifully complements Saitoti's text. Gazing on ochred warriors standing their traditional one-legged vigil over the tribal herds, one can share Saitoti's sadness at the relentless encroachment of Kenyan and Tanzanian farmers onto the land and into the lives of the Maasai. TREASURERS OF ANCIENT NIGERIA, by Ekpo Eyo and Frank Willett (Detroit Institute of Arts/Knopf, $18.95). Forced south by the gradual dessication of the Saharan plains, early Africans settled as farmers on the verdant flatlands and forests of what is now Nigeria. Freed from the continual search for food, the early tribes devoted themselves to social organization and religion, creating in the process some of the most beautiful sculpture and artifacts on the African continent. In 1979 the Detroit Institute of Arts and the Nigerian government brought 100 of the finest samples of ancient Nigerian art to the United States for the first time. The value of this catalogue of the exhibit lies not only in its splendid photographs of the striated heads of the Ife and burnished bronzes of Benin. Ekpo Eyo and Frank Willett relate the fascinating tales of discovery of the pieces and locate them in the chronology of world art history.

The perfect gift for a Third World culture enthusiast? This book and a long Sunday afternoon at the exhibit which will be at the Corcoran through January 31. AFRICA: TRIBAL ART OF FOREST AND SAVANNA, by Arnold Bamert (Thames and Hudson, $60). Early in the 20th Century, museum curators and artists rediscovered the beauty, symmetry and spirituality of African artifacts and rescued them from the dusty disorder of Western museum storerooms. Now Arnold Bamert has ferreted out and photographed 200 of the best examples of these artifacts from private collections to make the work of the African master craftsmen even more accessible. From fetishes to sculpted hermaphrodites, Bamert explains each object and describes each culture from the Nok of 5 A.D. to the Yoruba of today. This collection will entice the newcomer and captivate the converted to African art. TREASURES OF AFRICAN ART, by Malcolm McLeod (Abbeville Press, $25). One can imagine Picasso or Braque pouring over these over-sized photographs of African art searching for inspiration. With 51 full-color plates measuring ll 3/4 by 15 inches, this volume was clearly designed as a feast for the eyes. At this size, the two-headed nail fetish -- a two-headed dog bristling with nails and knife points -- looks every bit as malevolently imposing as its user intended when he brandished it to ward off evil spirits. Malcolm McLeod's descriptions impart both knowledge of the sub-saharan cultures that produced these pieces and understanding of the ways in which they were used.