The Maasai Tribe-Rituals

Rishana Bloom

Bronx Theatre High School

In the words of the Maasai

"It takes one day to destroy a house but to build a new one will take months, perhaps years. If we destroy our way of life to construct a new one, it will take thousands of years."

more maasai women
The rituals of the Maasai people serve to maintain their political structure based on age-sets, and reducing cattle population numbers. Each ritual transition between age-sets and age-groups is a step toward old age and metaphorically a step toward God. The critical event in each ceremony is the sharing of meat, which brings all participants closer to God.

When children are young, they usually stay within the Enkang, a form of enclosure formed by a fence of thorny plants which protect the tribe and their cattle from predators and other tribes. Here, the children tend the family herd.
Male Rituals
The first boys initiation is Enkipaata (pre-circumcision ceremony), and is organized by the fathers of the new-age set. Each twelve to fifteen years a new age-set is initiated together. Boys travel throughout their region for about four months announcing the new age-set. The day before the ceremony, boys must sleep outside in the forest. As dawn approaches, the young warriors run to the homestead. During the ceremony, boys dress in loose clothing and dance non-stop throughout the day. This ceremony is the transition into a new age-set. After this, boys are ready to be circumcised and to take charge of warriorhood. Every boy wants to be initiated as early as possible and before anyone else.

The second and most important initiation is Emuratare, the circumcision. Such initiation elevates an individual from childhood to the status of adulthood. A boy will prove himself to the community that he is ready to be initiated by exhibiting signs of a grown man, such as carrying a heavy spear, herding large herd of livestock, bringing cattle back home at dusk, traveling by himself at night to visit his friends, etc. A few days before the operation, a boy must herd cattle for seven full days. On the eighth day, he is circumcised. Before the operation, boys must stand outside in the cold weather and receive a cold shower to cleanse themselves of past sins. As he moves towards the location of the operation, his friends, age mates and male members of the family shout encouragement along with nasty looks and sometimes threats.

After circumcision, the next step is to form the Emanyatta (warriors' camp) which consists of between twenty and forty houses which are selected at random by warriors.
A special pole is used as a flagpole and planted in the middle of the camp. The Maasai nation's flag, a white and blue colored cloth, is tied to the pole before planting, and remains there as long as the Morrans (warriors) are still in the camp. Two Morran chiefs are chosen to lead, guide and represent their camp. These camps keep men of the same age-set together where they act as a military force. They will spend up to ten years in the Emanyatta before the Eunoto ceremony (senior's warrior initiation).

The Eunoto ceremony (senior warrior's initiation) is performed by members of the age-set after ten years of warriorhood. This initiation also allows senior warriors to marry, which then prepares them to become future fathers. This ceremony takes place in a specially chosen camp which includes forty-nine houses. Each graduating warrior must then have his head shaved by his mother. During the ceremony, warriors cannot carry any weapons. It is also at this ceremony that an animal horn is set on fire and warriors are forced to take a piece out before it is completely burned. He who removes the horn from the fire, it is believed, will suffer misfortunate throughout his entire life. If warriors refuse to take the horn from the fire, it is believed that the entire age-set will then be cursed. It is more favorable for one person to be cursed than many.

A few months after the Eunoto, warriors form a small camp for Enkang E-Kule, the milk ceremony. Before the Eunoto ceremony, warriors are not allowed to eat unless they are accompanied by others. Drinking outside the camp is allowed but only if women are not there. This prepares warriors for harsh conditions like famine. The milk ceremony also requires the entire age-set to have their heads shaved by their mothers.

The next initiation is Enkang oo-nkiri (meat ceremony/initiation camp). This is performed in a chosen camp that consists of between ten and twenty houses. The meat ceremony allows warriors to eat meat that has been prepared by women of the homestead and they are permitted to eat alone. A specially chosen bull is slaughtered for the ceremony. At the end of the meat ceremony, men and women fight each other for specially roasted meat. Warriors who violated their age-set taboos and laws are punished before this event takes place.

The last age-set's initiation is Orngesherr (junior's elder initiation) and marks the status of a junior elder. It is performed in a selected camp that contains twenty or more houses. Early in the morning, he will be shaved by his oldest wife (it is common for warriors to have more than one wife). After this ceremony, a man becomes an elder and gains full responsibility of his own family. He is now allowed to move away from his father's homestead and form his own homestead. His father remains his advisor in decision making

Women's Rituals

Maasai women and girls have many chores. The Maasai females are responsible for building and taking care of their family's home. They also take care of the children, milk the cows, collect firewood, and get water (average distance to travel for water is around 30 kilometers). Women are responsible for picking and cleaning gourds to make containers which they decorate with leather and beads. These containers are used to store milk, blood, water, honey and cornmeal.

Until their circumcision around the age of fifteen, Maasai girls have the freedom to enjoy sexual relations with junior warriors. The only restriction is that they are not permitted to become pregnant. After their circumcision, which is performed by the elder women, they are considered to be adult women (Esiankiki), and are immediately married (sometimes that day) to a man much older than themselves. Maasai women are respected as mothers, and will be members of the same age-sets as their husbands. Often women will maintain close ties, both social and sexual, with their former boyfriends, even after they are married (this is known as wife-lending), just so long as their relations are with a man belonging to the same age-set as their husband. If a Maasai woman has a child by a man other than her husband, the child is considered by the husband to be his own, and is not treated any differently than his biological children.

Older women enjoy the same status as male elders.


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