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Maasais women - Kenya | by Eric Lafforgue
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Maasais women - Kenya

 

The Massai live only on the Tanzania-Kenya border, along the Great Rift Valley on semi-arid and arid lands.They have been deported from their best traditional grazing lands, that are now known as the Maasai Mara National Reserve, the Amboseli National Park, and other protected forests.

The Maasai comprise 5 clans. They have reputation of fierce warriors. But they are traditionally seminomadic, and live off their cattle almost exclusively. The Maasai believe that all cattle belong to them and they are known to be cattle raiders. Cattle raiding used to be a common inter tribal activity. The livestock is a sign of wealth and is traditionally used to pay dowry for the wedding. Women are worth 10 cows. They consistently come from another village. Parents are the ones who negociate for the marriage. In the Maasai community, women construct the huts, collect firewood, bring water, milk the herds of cattle and cook for the family. Young boys look after the beasts while the warriors protect the clan. Older men take care of the daily operations in the community. The Maasai live in families in a Manyatta (a form of enclosed homestead), surrounded by a fence made of thorny bushes to protect them and their livestock from intruders and predators. Each Manyatta has about 10 to 20 huts known as "Inkajijik". These huts are made of tree branches, mud, grass and cow dung. If a man has more than one woman, he must build another house to welcome his second wife (to avoid rivalry). So a man who has 3 wifes must own 3 houses and therefore be rich. In the Maasai culture, the colorful ornaments are dedicated to their beauty, which is one of the most important aspects. Visual arts consist mainly of body decoration and beaded ornaments. These decorations are displayed in their dances, which are a popular art form. Women wear beaded necklaces and bangles, and men a red checked shuka (Maasai blanket). The warriors carry a spear and a ball-ended club, and paint their body with ochre. Maasai's diet includes meat, cow blood 2 times a week, and a lot of milk. The cows are bled by opening a vein in the neck with a blunt arrow or knife. The blood is then drunk on it’s own or with milk. The Maasai speak a Nilotic language, called Maa.

They believe in one God, Ngai (meaning "One Creator God"), the creator and giver of all things. They also believe in witchcraft. In each tribal group, there is a prophet who is seen as helping to cope with the endemic sorcery, by the means of protective medicines and advices for the rituals. In addition to the prophets, they also have diviners who are supposed to have the power to diagnose illnesses and causes of misfortune, and can prescribe a range of herbal medicines and ritual cures. Despite the fact that some members have moved to cities, many have kept their customs. The most distinctive feature of Maasai society is the age system for men, divided in sets and spaced apart by about fifteen years. Excision, as well as circoncision, is an initiatory ceremony that mark the passage to adulthood. Although excisions are prohibited in Kenya, it is widespread throughout the country, especially in rural areas. Only 4 ethnic groups (Luo, Luhya, Teso and Turkana) out of 42 don't practise it. According to the ethnies and regions, excisions vary considerably and range from 4.1% in the western region to 98.8% in the North-Est. They are common within the Somali (97%), Kisii (96%) and Maasai (93%) while they are less frequent among the Kikuyu (34%) and Kamba (27%). The kenyan law is rarely enforced and it sometimes lead this practice to clandestinity instead of slowing it down. For the 3 months of recovery period after excision, Maasai girls wear jewellery and chalk make-up, to show they must not be seen by men. Circumcision happens at the age of 18 in the Maasai tribes. Maasai woman are not allowed to attend the ceremony. Boys who show their pain with tears during the operation, are considered as cowards and bear this shame all his life. On the contrary, the ones who don't cry during circumcision are authorized to hunt colorful birds with their bow and arrows. Then they make a headdress indicating their new warrior's status. After the operation, boys go in their mother's hut to drink cow's fresh blood to recover their forces. The promotion of warriors to elderhood involve two distinct ceremonies. The 4 days eunoto ceremony raise the warriors to the senior warrior status. For this occasion, warriors gather in the same village. They are led by a ritual leader (olotuno). Each one of them has a part of his head shaved by his mother, which often makes them cry. It symbolizes the end of their freedom and of the bond with their mother. At the end of the ritual, the warrior can select any girl to marry. The olghesher ceremony promote them to senior elderhood thanks to which they have the power to bless and curse, and become protective leaders of the next new age-set.

During one of the ceremonies, maasai girls accompany their lover to the ceremonial dance. Pearl neacklaces and headbands follow the rhythm. This is the sole moment when girls can choose freely 3 lovers among the warriors.Traditionally, as long as the father was alive, no son has final control over his cattle nor over his choice in marriage. At marriage, the bride is allocated a herd of cattle, from which all her sons will build up herds of their own. In any case, women are raised to accept her submission to her future husband.

 

© Eric Lafforgue

www.ericlafforgue.com

 

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Taken on July 8, 2009