Maasai Tribe : The Maasai tribe are one of the most famous tribes of Africa, the Maasai are the nomadic and pastoralist belonging to the Nilotic ethnic group inhabiting selected but large parts of northern, central and southern Kenya and across the border in northern Tanzania as well.
The Maasai people are one of the most known ethnic people in East Africa region because of their strong tradition and customs which have not been affected by technology and modernity. The origins of the traditions are attributed to the surrounding areas of Masai Mara game reserve and Amboseli national park near the Tanzania border.
The Maasai people speak the Maa language which is shared among the Nilotic origins and links them in various ways to the Kalenjin tribe of Kenya famous for producing some of the best long distance runners in the world.
The Maasai people comprises of unique characteristics ranging from culture, dressing and diet among others.
The Maasai tribe/people are historically nomadic people who have traditionally relied on readily available materials and indigenous technology to construct their unusual and interesting housing locally known as the Boma. The bomas are circular houses built using local materials such as woods, mud and thatched with grass. These houses are designed for people who are always on a move and thus they are very impermanent in nature, in the Maasai tribe it is the responsibility of women to build the houses and they are either circular or loaf – shaped. The Maasai villages are enveloped in a circular Enkang (Fence) which is built by the men and this is built for protection of their cattle from the wild animals in the night.
The Maasai society is firmly patriarchal in nature with elder Maasai men sometimes joined by retired elders to determine most major matters for the Maasai community. For the Maasai people living a traditional way of life, the end of life virtually without a formal funeral ceremony and the dead are left out in the fields for scavengers. According the Maasai traditions, burial has in the past been reserved for great chiefs of the community only, this is because it is believed by the Maasai that burial is harmful to the soil.
The traditional lifestyle of the Maasai people concentrates on their cattle which constituent the primary source of food, in the Maasai a man’s wealth is measured in terms of children and cattle (the more the better).
It is believed that a man who has plenty of cattle but not many children is considered to be poor and vice verse, a Maasai myth has it that God afforded them all the cattle on earth, resulting into the belief that rustling from other tribes is a matter of claiming what is rightfully theirs. Currently the practice of cattle rustling by the Maasai has become much less.
The Maasai people are monotheistic believing in their God “Engai or Enkai”, Engai is mostly benevolent and manifests himself in the form of different colors and according to the feeling he is experiencing. The said colors have precise meanings
- Black and dark blue mean that the God is well-disposed towards men
- Red is identified with Gods irritation
The Maasai god “Enkai” has two manifestations:
Enkai – Narok – the Black God, good and beloved brings grass and prosperity. He is found in thunder and rain.
Enkai – na – Nyokie – the Red God, vengeful, brings famine and hunger. He is found in lightning and is identified with dry season, the importance of cattle to the Maasai people can be traced back to their religion and to Enkai.
As of for today, most the Maasai people are Christians and very few are Muslims.
The traditional diet of the Maasai people consists of 6 basic foods that are meat, blood, milk, fat, honey and tree bark. The Maasai people drink both fresh and curdled milk, the fresh milk is drunk from calabash and sometimes it is mixed with fresh cattle blood.
The blood is obtained by nicking the jugular vein, the mixture of blood and milk is mostly used as a ritual drink and as nourishment for the sick. For special ceremonies and occasions, bulls, oxen and lambs are slaughtered for meat. The by-products of the animals that are skin and hides are used as bedding while the cow dung is used during the building of the bomas as it is smeared on the walls.
Traditionally, the entire way of life of Maasai People revolves around their cattle. However, more recently the Maasai people have supplemented their diet with farm crops such as maize meal, rice, cabbage among other food crops.
In the Maasai community, the clothing varies by sex, age and place. Young me wear black for several months after their circumcision, although red is a favored color among the Maasai people. Blue, black, checked and striped cloth are also worn together with multi-colored African garments.
In the 1960s, the Maasai began to replace sheepskin, calf hides and animal skin for more commercial material. In Maa language, the cloth used by the Maasai to wrap around the body is called the Shúkà.
The Maasai women regularly weave and bead jewellery which plays an essential part in the ornamentation of their body, the Maasai practice ear piercing and the stretching of earlobes for both men and women. This is part of the Maasai beauty, both men and women wear metal hoops on their stretched earlobes.
The Maasai people both men and women shave their head mostly as a way of celebrating rites of passage such as circumcision and marriage. Shaving off the hair represents the fresh start that will be made as one passes from one chapter of life to another, it is only the Maasai warriors who are allowed to wear long hair which the weave in thinly braided strands.
Naming of the Maasai children is done when children reach the age of 3 moons and their heads are shaved clean apart from a tuft of hair which resembles a cockade, from the nape of the neck to the forehead. The young boys are also shaved two days before they are circumcised, the young warriors then allow their hair to grow and spend a great deal of time styling their hair.
MAASAI MUSIC AND DANCE
The Maasai people do not use any instruments when they are singing or dancing, all of their music is vocal expect for the large horns used for certain songs. The Maasai music comprises of rhythms rendered by a chorus of vocalists singing harmonies, all the while the Olaranyani who is the song leader sings the melody. The Olaranyani is usually the person who can best sing that song and when the Olaranyani starts inging a line or title of the song known as Namba in Maa language. The group then responds with one unanimous call in acknowledgement, while the Maasai jump and sing, the beads that both men and women wear create a jingling sound. Women recite lullabies, hum songs and sing music that praises their sons.
The peak season for singing and dancing is during the rain which is of course the favorable time for the Maasai to celebrate passages of life such as circumcision and marriage. This mostly occurs around the manyattas and involve flirting.