When you go to Southern Kenya and part of Northern Tanzania, you can find yourself in the land of the Maasai. There are close to six hundred thousand Maasai people in Kenya alone while the Maasai in Tanzania are more than half the number found in Kenya. They are commonly referred to as the Lion Hunting People.
They were the ancestral inhabitants of the Maasai Mara National Reserve of Kenya.
Their lifestyle has not differed from their ancestors in spite of all the modern changes that have taken place in Kenya and Tanzania. Almost every aspect of life is unique about these people right from eating habits to types of dress and footwear.
In spite of both Kenya and Tanzania enjoying the modernized world, there has been very little impact in “modernizing” these people.
The Maasai Tribe lives a nomadic lifestyle spending two to three months at a particular place. Then they leave in search of cattle grazing areas. When they arrive at a new place, women will build houses. The houses will be built in a circular form to allow the kraals of cows and goats to be at the centre of the new village.
Cattle are the Maasai’s most precious possession. Therefore, this arrangement makes it difficult for lions to penetrate into the kraal to kill their cattle. Thorny branches are used to fence the kraals as well as the village itself.
MATERIALS FOR THE HOUSES
The architecture of houses is unique in the sense that poles, fibre, cow dung are used as building materials. The houses are arranged in circular form putting their precious animals in the middle of the village. They separate goats from the cattle by putting a hedge of thorns around them. Again the houses in the village are fenced so that lions have to pass this hedge before approaching where the cattle and goats are located.
Both men and women wear nose or earrings in addition to their traditional, colourful regalia. For men, only those who have graduated from being warriors are allowed to wear earrings. The whole tribe is conscious of their enemy number one and so the people wear loose-fitting materials to enable them to move freely in case of an emergent attack.
LION HUNTING PEOPLE
From childhood, boys play with bow and arrows to target a banana on the ground or up the tree. Later these skills are developed to hunt for food or defend their village. Most important of all, the skill will be used to prove manhood by killing a lion. That is how the Maasai warriors are fearless hunting lion people.
They are responsible for reducing the population of lions in Southern Kenya and northern Tanzania. In Kenya, this forced the Kenya Wildlife Service to mobilize funds and negotiate with the elders of the tribe to stop hunting down lions so that they can be compensated for each cow killed. The service was no longer going to respect lion killers but would imprison them for a long time.
REACTION FROM THE WARRIORS
Of course, this proposition is not a welcoming remark to the warriors who have to stop practising the hunting lifestyles of their ancestors. For their girls and women to think of them as non-lion killers would be unthinkable. They can no longer command their usual respect as lion killer warriors.
SLAUGHTERING A GOAT
Slaughtering a goat or cow is done outside the village and apportioned to children, women, warriors and elders. For instance, once a goat is slaughtered, blood from the goat is drunk fresh by the people slaughtering it. The Maasai believe lions are strong because they begin by drinking blood from their prey. They, too, would like to maintain their strength by drinking the blood of the animals they slaughter. The warriors slaughtering the goat eat a five-course raw meal before they hand over for the division of the goat to various people.
Starting the fire is by gathering acacia thorns and rubbing tiny sticks together and letting dry leaves and small sticks receive the tiny flame of fire.
DIVISION OF THE MEAT AFTER SLAUGHTER
The back of a goat is given to the owner of the goat while the right hind leg is shared among the pregnant women and the elderly. The other part belongs to the warriors. The chest belongs to the children while the ribs belong to the chief and the other part given to the owner of the goat. The front leg is also given to the owner of the goat. The fat of the stomach is eaten raw by the warriors. The kidney is also eaten raw while the roasted liver is only eaten by the elderly people who are aged 30 and above. There is no salt added to the roasted meat. The eyeballs are left for the dogs or hyenas to eat.
CIRCUMCISION OF BOYS
From the tender age of seven years and above, boys are taken into the bush for circumcision. They are taught how to behave in their adulthood and how to respect their elders. After that, they wait for another period of seclusion at the age of eighteen. This is referred to as the Moran Ceremony.
After this special seclusion, they adorn themselves in the beautiful Maasai regalia. The morning after the completion of the initiation ceremony, a cow is slaughtered to celebrate the festival of the boys who have turned into men. Women are invited to attend the ceremony to ensure that they participate in the fidelity ceremony that follows.
THE FIDELITY CEREMONY
The Fidelity Ceremony is unheard-of among many African tribes. In this special ceremony, women are given part of the roasted meat of a cow to present to their husbands. The latter would accept the gift wholeheartedly if he has remained faithful to his wife since their marriage ceremony. If not, and for the fear of the unknown consequences, the husband would decline to receive the gift. This is a somewhat embarrassing situation. The elders of the village then encourage his wife to decide the kind of punishment that would be meted out to her husband. Sometimes the decision from the disappointed wife would be to have her husband beaten strokes of a cane in public. In most cases, women demand that their husbands give them a goat or goats.
CIRCUMCISION OF GIRLS
Circumcision of the Maasai girls also takes place at a tender age. Even before or after female circumcision, grasshoppers are a source of delicacy eaten together with uncircumcised boys. The girls are encouraged to perform functions they will be doing in adulthood such as building houses and milking cows and goats.
Marriage ceremonies are initiated by parents. No girl or man picks a husband or wife for personal choice. Girls are taught during their initiation ceremonies not to fall pregnant before their marriage ceremony. They are allowed to visit places where the warriors are, but they must go back and sleep in their mothers’ houses. A girl may get married to an already married man and be the second, third or even fourth wife of an elderly Maasai.
Warriors aged between eighteen and twenty-nine are not allowed to marry until they graduate from this category at the age of thirty. Some girls are considered to be lucky to get married to a single man. However, because of almost unbearable workload for the women, wives encourage their husband to acquire another wife.
The Maasai people have been taking part in Kenya’s independence celebrations adorned in their beautiful traditional dress or regalia. Their traditional songs and dances are a marvel to the spectators. In this way, they show their patriotism to their country. Next time you think of meeting a peculiar people, try going to Maasai Land.