The Maasai

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The Maasai

The Maasai are one of the many southern-most tribes located in Kenya. They are physically related, and also in many other forms related to the Samburu and Turkana. The Maasai have a relatively complex culture and traditions but for many years they were unheard of. By the late 1800's we soon discovered more about the Maasai, mostly from their oral histories. In this paper we will look at their history and origin, social structure, religion, economy, and communication.

Origin and History
It is presumed that the Maasai came from the north, probably from the region of the Nile Valley in Sudan. Also presumed is that they left this area sometime between the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries, migrating southwards towards the Great Rift Valley. According to the Maasai oral history, they came from a crater or deep valley somewhere to the north, at a place called Endikir-e-Kerio . Although many scholars have called this place the southeastern region of Lake Turkana, many of the oral histories say that they may have come from further up north, near the Nile river. Whichever location, this is migration was caused by a dry spell. According to the Maasai, a bridge was built, and after half the livestock and people had left the dry area, the bridge collapsed leaving back the other half of the population. These people later climbed out of the valley, and were helped by the present day Somali, Borana, and Rendille peoples. The Maasai later entered Kenya, and moved south through the Rift Valley, where there was pasture for their cattle. Because there was very little surface water, the Maasai resorted to pastoralism instead of agriculture. The Maasai now own a total land area of 160,000 kilometers. ( )

Social Structure
The elders are most respected in the tribe. They have a person that is their "king". Every day all tribe members will awake, and go to see the leader. He will then distribute jobs that need to get done. The people are not able to start the day without seeing the "king"; otherwise the workers could end up doing jobs that do not need to be accomplished. Age is the greatest influence in Maasai society. The older a tribe member is, the higher their status is among the tribe. Age-grades are the consecutive statuses that individuals are given in the course of their lives. While the age-grades are mainly for initiated men, women can obtain a higher age-grade after marriage. The ceremonies that occur for these passages through age are important in keeping this established tradition. The most important ages for both men and women are between 15 and 18. This is when the girls and boys are initiated into adulthood through the act of circumcision. After the act of circumcision, both boys and girls are able to take on new responsibilities in their community, including the right to marry, hold land, and cattle for themselves. The rights that are given to women as they progress through age groups include the responsibilities of herds, land and families. Women look after the young children, milk the cattle, repair the huts, collect fire-wood, prepare the food, and may need to travel many miles to fetch water. Warriors eventually go through the Eunoto ceremony leading to marriage when they can take several wives and have children (the men are allowed to have relationships with any circumcised women of their age group); they also begin to acquire cattle. Finally they become respected elders. Elders look to Laibon (spiritual leaders, perhaps one per clan) for advice and expect them to provide rain and good grazing. When a mother sends her son to be initiated, she presents him with pendants known as surutia to wear throughout his initiation. He will later return these to her, to be worn proudly as a sign of her son's status. A mother will wear these surutia all of her life, and they are only removed in the event of a sons' death. This is also the time for girls to...
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