“It takes one day to destroy a house; tobuild a new house will take months and perhaps years. If we abandon ourway of life to construct a new one, it will take thousands of years”, Maasaibelief.TheMaasai are a semi-nomadic tribe in Kenya, who are believed to have originatedfrom the Nile Valley and ended up in their home today in the great rift valleypart of Kenya. This tribe is known for its rich, deep seated andwealthy cultural heritage that has stuck on even with the advent ofcivilization and education, the western cultures have not deterred them frombeing who they are nor have they even shown any interest in it, which cannot besaid of the other 41 Kenyan tribes. Did you the today capital city of Kenyabelonged to the Maasai community? infact, the name Nairobi is gotten from the maasai phrase ‘EnkareNairobi’ meaning ‘cool water’.
They stand very tall in the country hoist oftribes, they are famous across the world and even the country has more oftenthan not used this community and their culture to promote its tourism, and itscultural diplomacy. Needless to mention the less than many instances,the government has tried to dissuade the community from holding to theirindigenous, purportedly uncivilized customs. They have gone ahead to evenlegally outlaw some of their practices like female circumcision, and forcingthem to take their children to school.But has it discouraged them? Here is why this culture is so ingrained in amaasai person, it makes the maasai as a noun, Maasai the verb. It might takesome time to rub it out completely.The Rich Maasai cultural Heritage.Inception;From birth a maasai boy or girl belong to anage-set (defined by a group born around the same time), it is what eventuallydefines them, they belong to an age-set until they die. Boys play together whenthey are young, herd together, get circumcised together, although they stilllive their carefree life as boys –chasing girls and game hunting Maasaiboys are guided and mentored by their fathers and other elders on how to becomea warrior.
They also learn all of the cultural practices, customary laws andresponsibilities he’ll require as an elder. Girls spendmost of their time helping their mothers and learning womanly responsibilities,when they get married, they are identified with the age set of their husbands. Some of their taboos include, a daughter cannot lookat her father eating, a warrior has to listen to an elders advise. The Maasai community are strong believers inceremonies, according to them ceremonies are an expression of their culture.Each of which is a rite of passage or celebration and it gives a sense ofidentity to every maasai. Circumcision(Emurata), formsthe most important rite of passages for this community, Social responsibilities are variant and key tothem too, their way of life is noticeable-the ‘shuka’ clothing, food, dance andmusic. Ceremoniesand Rituals- Circumcision.
Today they are legally allowed to circumcise onlyboys From being a boy to a warrior to an elder, is anextremely long journey in the life of a maasai, it has a lot stages andceremonies and rituals to be performed as a result and in a definite order. Being awarrior is a source of pride in the maasai culture, they believe all boys areborn warriors, from a young age boys are taught how to be a man,responsibilities as an elder, warrior etc. Especially being a patriarchalcommunity.Among the ceremonies are pre –circumcision ceremony(-enkipaata), circumcision (Emuratta),warrior-shaving ceremony(Eunoto), Marriage (Enkiama), Meat-eating ceremony (Enkang oo-nkiri)and Junior elder ceremony(olngesherr) among others. And for boys and girls before getting circumcised,they have Ear lobe(eudoto/enkigerunoto oo-inkiyiaa) and legfire marks (ilkipirat). Emurata-Circumcision.Circumcision forms the most important rite of passages for this community,at the Age 14-16, boys (are always very enthusiastic) go through circumcision,and after which they become warriors. It’s a very painful ordeal or so theysay, with no kind of pain reliever, no wincing, yet it is enviable among the maasaipeople.
But this does not come easy either, for a boy to qualify for initiation ithas to beyond doubt, – he has to show the ability to carry a heavy spear,-can herd large herds of cows etc.Pre-circumcision ceremony (Enkipaata).This involves the yet to be circumcised group ofboys in between the ages of 14-16 accompanied by elders, across their land forfour months announcing their upcoming new age set. Theybuild 30-40 houses in a kraal as chosen by the Oloibon(prophet). During theceremony, boys dress in loose clothing and dance continuously for the whole dayas a transition to the new age set. They are then ready for Emurata(circumcision).Emurata(circumcision).Circumcision is a highlyanticipated and desired rite of passage in the maasai community, to becomewarriors and take up the responsibility of security in their territory, to gainrespect and to marry when they graduate to senior warriors.
The elders in charge wouldtest the boy if he is ready for circumcision, by making him look after a largeherd of livestock and see if he can carry a heavy spear like a man. So beforethe D-day the boys herd for seven days and then on the eight day, they face theknife. Thehealing would take between 3-4months, within this time they are in black clothswhich they will wear up to 8months, here is when they receive the status of anew warrior, to the thrill of every of them.Theynow form the warriors camp, the Emanyatta (warriors camp)-this campallows men of the same age set to stay together and fulfill their role asmilitary force, they are guided by two Moran chiefs who are chosen to lead andrepresent their camp. They teach them on the age set brotherhood the art of oratory skills andanimal husbandry.
A special pole, fixed in themiddle of the camp, is used as a flagpole –the maasai flag (white and blue colors), the flag remains hoisted forthe time the warriors- Moran’s, will be in the camp and is only pulled downafter their time in camp is over- After 10years.10years later, it is another ceremony, the time for the warriors to graduate intosenior warriors.TheEunoto – Warriorgraduation into a senior warrior, it is commonly known as the warriorshaving ceremony.Thewarriors mother shaves their graduating sons longochre-stained hair. Some of the rituals they perform during this time issetting a horn on fire and then forcing the warriors to save it before itscompletely burned or just take a piece of it out. And that would probably havebeen an easy thing to do, after all they are warriors, but there is a catch,whoever removes it will suffer misfortune through his entire life and still ifno one takes it out, all the age set will suffer the consequence, and so one ofthem has to sacrifice himself to save the whole age set.
Immediately after circumcision warriors wouldbe given cattle as gifts by friends and family for their bravery and so duringtheir graduation (10years later) to senior warriors, they have herds forthemselves, it is what they contribute to raise eight bulls, before theceremony, which will be distributed to the elders on the graduation day. They choose three leaders oneis whom shall shoulder all of the age set’s bad and good deeds, another ishonored with a specially chosen female cow and the third is entrusted with a leather strap with aknot that symbolizes his age set. By the end of warrior-hood, this knot will beuntied to free the warriors from their isolated world. The knot allows warriorsto do things independently from other age mates. This stage of life is atransition to an elder.
After this ceremony thewarriors are permitted to now marry. In the Maasai community, men do not marrybefore graduating to senior warriors.Orngesherr (junior’selder initiation),Thismakes last age set’s initiation, its every age sets desire just like the firstone of circumcision. Because it’s after this that a man can move away from his father’shomestead and form his new home, that will be at the age of 35years.
He will stillneed his father for advice however.Every manis given an elders chair and which on the early morning of the initiation day,the man will sit on that chair and be shaved by his wife, if incase he ispolygamous, the first wife takes the honors. The manwould sit on the chair until its broken, but in case of death the eldest sonwill adopt the chair. SocialResponsibilities.Every Maasai has a responsibility to perform in thecommunity and which they are extremely committed to accomplishing, mostlybecause it can only be done by them according to traditions. There is always aconsequence if you abscond responsibility.
Constructing houses. The maasai houses are arranged in a circular manner,with a thorns fence to protect them against lions attacking them and theirlivestock.It is the responsibility of the women to make thehouses or Inkajijik (Maasai word for a house. They use timber poles to raise thewalls and inter weave them with smaller branches of bendable wattle branches,then smear it with a mixture of cow dung, mud, grass, sticks and urine, to makean enclosed shelter for the family. The loaf-shaped houses were traditionallymeant to be temporary since the maasai were always on the move but with timethey have been restricted to one place, albeit they have not changed theirhousing style. Apartfrom constructing homes, women are also in charge of collecting firewood, milkingcows and cooking for the family.While women construct, the menconstruct the fence (enkang) around the houses which they call a kraal- Traditionally, kraals are shared by anextended family.
However, today it is possible for a single family to occupy akraal. Their livestock sleep in the heart of the kraal where they are deemedsafe from the wild animals and rustlers.The houses built are not very big in size (3m by 5 m and 1.
5m height), youmight not be able to stand straight in any of the huts at all, yet they aremulti-purpose, it’s the kitchen, the dining room, the living room, the bedroom,the store for possessions and shelter for small livestock-maybe new-born.Other responsibilities.Warriorsare in charge of security while boys-who are the uncircumcised are responsiblefor herding livestock. However, during the dry season, when they have to lookfor grazing land further, they are accompanied by warriors to herd.
Elders onthe other hand are the decision makers, the lawyers, the directors andadvisors. They hold a very high moral ground in the community and every morningbefore the boys leave to herd, the head of Inkang(elder) announces the schedulefor the day for everyone. Way of Life.Food.The lifeand food of the maasai people revolves around their cattle. In fact, for themthey believe that all the cows in the world has been given to them by God. Andits everything to them, its food, it’s a measure of wealth, its used as dowryin marriage bonds, they are also fines to settle disputes.
But even with thisin mind, they do not slaughter cows always just for meat, they believe itsgreedy unless it’s on a special occasion thendefinitely. Thestable food entails milk from the cows and goats, and they occasionally mix themilk with blood drawn by nicking the jugular vein of a cow. This reserves the cow for more meals in thefuture.For thesick, they are given to drink raw blood mixed with fermented milk (culturedmilk) or a drink made from boiling the root or stem bark.
Also drunken elders are given blood to assuage intoxication and hangover. Dressing.You willidentify a Maasai status by how they dress. Outsiders commonly know red astheir color, but that is not true. They also wear other colors like black,blue, checked and stripped prints. Althoughthey initially had skin and hides to cover their private parts.
They havea variety of colors and designs intended for specific ages, gender, place,occasion and status in the community.Forexample, Black ‘shukas'(it’s a Maa name for a cloth wrap) are worn by young menafter circumcision.Red iscommonly worn by warriors because they believe, this color scares away lionsduring their herding. It also signifies bravery.Womenwear colorful and decorated clothes with beadsHair alsomakes a symbolic gesture among the maasai, its shaved on every passage from onestage to another to symbolize entry into a new phase of life, for example, boysare shaved before circumcision, and after circumcision they go into the campfor 10years, here they grow their hair, dye them in red ocher and braid them.
After that, they graduate into senior warriors and is when they shave again.Women and children on the other hand maintain a shaved look all through.As themen are shaved at every passage from one stage of life to another, their bridesto be will have theirs shaved, and this will call for the slaughter of two ramsin honor of the occasion.
BeadsThe menwear beaded bands on their wrists, ankles and necks. While women have bigcollars of beads on their necks and sometimes head.Red forthe maasai symbolizes bravery and strength, blue is for the sky and rain, whiteis for the cow milk, orange and yellow show hospitality and black representsthe hardships of the people.They also remove the caninetooth on early childhood in their belief that it would prevent diarrhea, vomiting and other feverish illnesses in children. Understanding culturalHeritage Accordingto UNESCO Cultural Heritage isthe ‘legacy of physical artefacts andintangible attributes of a group or society that are inherited from pastgenerations, maintained in the present and bestowed for the benefit of futuregenerations’. Andso Cultural Heritage is generally beliefs, Monuments, knowledge, artefacts, traditionsand customs that are passed down from generation to generation.
Theintangible part of it involvesrituals, arts, beliefs, festive events and way of doings things, it’s theuniqueness of a culture and in the face of globalization buttresses diversity;it encourages interaction and communication among different groups, it alsofosters respect to each other. Imagine a world which all people shared the sameculture, customs, beliefs, attachment to physical artefacts? Whiletangible on the other hand involvesartifacts, monuments etc. this provides for references to narrating historicalpresence of a community, actions and events, it makes learning about the pastbecomes a very practical affair. The Maasaiintangible cultural heritage is richer than the tangible cultural heritage orso it seems but the passing down of practices, rituals, ceremonies is by meansof a physical symbol which is highly regarded.