“It takes one day to destroy a house; to
build a new house will take months and perhaps years. If we abandon our
way of life to construct a new one, it will take thousands of years”, Maasai
Maasai are a semi-nomadic tribe in Kenya, who are believed to have originated
from the Nile Valley and ended up in their home today in the great rift valley
part of Kenya.
This tribe is known for its rich, deep seated and
wealthy cultural heritage that has stuck on even with the advent of
civilization and education, the western cultures have not deterred them from
being who they are nor have they even shown any interest in it, which cannot be
said of the other 41 Kenyan tribes. Did you the today capital city of Kenya
belonged to the Maasai community? in
fact, the name Nairobi is gotten from the maasai phrase ‘Enkare
Nairobi’ meaning ‘cool water’.
They stand very tall in the country hoist of
tribes, they are famous across the world and even the country has more often
than not used this community and their culture to promote its tourism, and its
Needless to mention the less than many instances,
the government has tried to dissuade the community from holding to their
indigenous, purportedly uncivilized customs. They have gone ahead to even
legally outlaw some of their practices like female circumcision, and forcing
them to take their children to school.
But has it discouraged them?
Here is why this culture is so ingrained in a
maasai person, it makes the maasai as a noun, Maasai the verb. It might take
some time to rub it out completely.
The Rich Maasai cultural Heritage.
From birth a maasai boy or girl belong to an
age-set (defined by a group born around the same time), it is what eventually
defines them, they belong to an age-set until they die. Boys play together when
they are young, herd together, get circumcised together, although they still
live their carefree life as boys –chasing girls and game hunting Maasai
boys are guided and mentored by their fathers and other elders on how to become
a warrior. They also learn all of the cultural practices, customary laws and
responsibilities he’ll require as an elder.
most 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 look
at her father eating, a warrior has to
listen to an elders advise.
The Maasai community are strong believers in
ceremonies, 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 of
identity to every maasai. Circumcision(Emurata), forms
the most important rite of passages for this community, Social responsibilities are variant and key to
them too, their way of life is noticeable-the ‘shuka’ clothing, food, dance and
and Rituals- Circumcision.
Today they are legally allowed to circumcise only
From being a boy to a warrior to an elder, is an
extremely long journey in the life of a maasai, it has a lot stages and
ceremonies and rituals to be performed as a result and in a definite order.
warrior is a source of pride in the maasai culture, they believe all boys are
born warriors, from a young age boys are taught how to be a man,
responsibilities as an elder, warrior etc. Especially being a patriarchal
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 leg
fire marks (ilkipirat).
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 they
no kind of pain reliever, no wincing, yet it is enviable among the maasai
But this does not come easy either, for a boy to qualify for initiation it
has 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 of
boys in between the ages of 14-16 accompanied by elders, across their land for
four months announcing their upcoming new age set. They
build 30-40 houses in a kraal as chosen by the Oloibon(prophet). During the
ceremony, boys dress in loose clothing and dance continuously for the whole day
as a transition to the new age set.
They are then ready for Emurata(circumcision).
Circumcision is a highly
anticipated and desired rite of passage in the maasai community, to become
warriors and take up the responsibility of security in their territory, to gain
respect and to marry when they graduate to senior warriors.
The elders in charge would
test the boy if he is ready for circumcision, by making him look after a large
herd of livestock and see if he can carry a heavy spear like a man. So before
the D-day the boys herd for seven days and then on the eight day, they face the
healing would take between 3-4months, within this time they are in black cloths
which they will wear up to 8months, here is when they receive the status of a
new warrior, to the thrill of every of them.
now form the warriors camp, the Emanyatta (warriors camp)-this camp
allows men of the same age set to stay together and fulfill their role as
military force, they are guided by two Moran chiefs who are chosen to lead and
represent their camp. They teach them on the age set brotherhood the art of oratory skills and
A special pole, fixed in the
middle of the camp, is used as a flagpole –the maasai flag (white and blue colors), the flag remains hoisted for
the time the warriors- Moran’s, will be in the camp and is only pulled down
after their time in camp is over- After 10years.
years later, it is another ceremony, the time for the warriors to graduate into
Eunoto – Warrior
graduation into a senior warrior, it is commonly known as the warrior
warriors mother shaves their graduating sons long
ochre-stained hair. Some of the rituals they perform during this time is
setting a horn on fire and then forcing the warriors to save it before its
completely burned or just take a piece of it out. And that would probably have
been 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 if
no one takes it out, all the age set will suffer the consequence, and so one of
them has to sacrifice himself to save the whole age set.
Immediately after circumcision warriors would
be given cattle as gifts by friends and family for their bravery and so during
their graduation (10years later) to senior warriors, they have herds for
themselves, it is what they contribute to raise eight bulls, before the
ceremony, which will be distributed to the elders on the graduation day.
They choose three leaders one
is whom shall shoulder all of the age set’s bad and good deeds, another is
honored with a specially chosen female cow and the third is entrusted with a leather strap with a
knot that symbolizes his age set.
By the end of warrior-hood, this knot will be
untied to free the warriors from their isolated world. The knot allows warriors
to do things independently from other age mates. This stage of life is a
transition to an elder.
After this ceremony the
warriors are permitted to now marry. In the Maasai community, men do not marry
before graduating to senior warriors.
makes last age set’s initiation, its every age sets desire just like the first
one of circumcision. Because it’s after this that a man can move away from his father’s
homestead and form his new home, that will be at the age of 35years. He will still
need his father for advice however.
is 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 is
polygamous, the first wife takes the honors.
would sit on the chair until its broken, but in case of death the eldest son
will adopt the chair.
Every Maasai has a responsibility to perform in the
community and which they are extremely committed to accomplishing, mostly
because it can only be done by them according to traditions. There is always a
consequence if you abscond responsibility.
The maasai houses are arranged in a circular manner,
with a thorns fence to protect them against lions attacking them and their
It is the responsibility of the women to make the
houses or Inkajijik (Maasai word for a house. They use timber poles to raise the
walls 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 make
an enclosed shelter for the family.
The loaf-shaped houses were traditionally
meant to be temporary since the maasai were always on the move but with time
they have been restricted to one place, albeit they have not changed their
from constructing homes, women are also in charge of collecting firewood,
cows and cooking for the family.
While women construct, the men
construct the fence (enkang) around the houses which they call a kraal- Traditionally, kraals are shared by an
extended family. However, today it is possible for a single family to occupy a
kraal. Their livestock sleep in the heart of the kraal where they are deemed
safe from the wild animals and rustlers.
The houses built are not very big in size (3m by 5 m and 1.5m height), you
might not be able to stand straight in any of the huts at all, yet they are
multi-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.
are in charge of security while boys-who are the uncircumcised are responsible
for herding livestock. However, during the dry season, when they have to look
for grazing land further, they are accompanied by warriors to herd.
the other hand are the decision makers, the lawyers, the directors and
advisors. They hold a very high moral ground in the community and every morning
before the boys leave to herd, the head of Inkang(elder) announces the schedule
for the day for everyone.
Way of Life.
and food of the maasai people revolves around their cattle. In fact, for them
they believe that all the cows in the world has been given to them by God. And
its everything to them, its food, it’s a measure of wealth, its used as dowry
in marriage bonds, they are also fines to settle disputes. But even with this
in mind, they do not slaughter cows always just for meat, they believe its
greedy unless it’s on a special occasion then
stable food entails milk from the cows and goats, and they occasionally mix the
milk with blood drawn by nicking the jugular vein of a cow. This reserves the cow for more meals in the
sick, they are given to drink raw blood mixed with fermented milk (cultured
milk) or a drink made from boiling the root or stem bark. Also drunken elders are given blood to assuage intoxication and hangover.
identify a Maasai status by how they dress. Outsiders commonly know red as
their color, but that is not true. They also wear other colors like black,
blue, checked and stripped prints.
they initially had skin and hides to cover their private parts.
a variety of colors and designs intended for specific ages, gender, place,
occasion and status in the community.
example, Black ‘shukas'(it’s a Maa name for a cloth wrap) are worn by young men
commonly worn by warriors because they believe, this color scares away lions
during their herding. It also signifies bravery.
wear colorful and decorated clothes with beads
makes a symbolic gesture among the maasai, its shaved on every passage from one
stage to another to symbolize entry into a new phase of life, for example, boys
are shaved before circumcision, and after circumcision they go into the camp
for 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.
men are shaved at every passage from one stage of life to another, their brides
to be will have theirs shaved, and this will call for the slaughter of two rams
in honor of the occasion.
wear beaded bands on their wrists, ankles and necks. While women have big
collars of beads on their necks and sometimes head.
the maasai symbolizes bravery and strength, blue is for the sky and rain, white
is for the cow milk, orange and yellow show hospitality and black represents
the hardships of the people.
They also remove the canine
tooth on early childhood in their belief that it would prevent diarrhea, vomiting and other feverish illnesses in children.
to UNESCO Cultural Heritage is
the ‘legacy of physical artefacts and
intangible attributes of a group or society that are inherited from past
generations, maintained in the present and bestowed for the benefit of future
so Cultural Heritage is generally beliefs, Monuments, knowledge, artefacts, traditions
and customs that are passed down from generation to generation.
intangible part of it involves
rituals, arts, beliefs, festive events and way of doings things, it’s the
uniqueness of a culture and in the face of globalization buttresses diversity;
it encourages interaction and communication among different groups, it also
fosters respect to each other. Imagine a world which all people shared the same
culture, customs, beliefs, attachment to physical artefacts?
tangible on the other hand involves
artifacts, monuments etc. this provides for references to narrating historical
presence of a community, actions and events, it makes learning about the past
becomes a very practical affair.
intangible cultural heritage is richer than the tangible cultural heritage or
so it seems but the passing down of practices, rituals, ceremonies is by means
of a physical symbol which is highly regarded.