The Maasai are a Nilotic ethnic group inhabiting northern, central and southern Kenya and northern Tanzania. They are among the best known local populations internationally due to their residence near the many game parks of the African Great Lakes, and their distinctive customs and dress. The Maasai speak the Maa language a member of the Nilo-Saharan family that is related to the Dinka, Kalenjin and Nuer languages. Some have become educated in the official languages of Kenya and Tanzania, Swahili and English. The Maasai population has been reported as numbering 841,622 in Kenya in the 2009 census, compared to 377,089 in the 1989 census.
The Maasai are thought to have originated in the Upper Nile Valley. Their myths speak about climbing up from a broad and deep crater bounded on all sides by a steep, long cliff. By the 1600s they had begun migrating with their herds into the vast arid, savanna-like (grassland) region of East Africa straddling the Kenya-Tanzania border.
Today, their homeland is bounded by Lake Victoria to the west and Mount Kilimanjaro to the east. Maasailand extends some 310 miles (500 kilometers) from north to south and about 186 miles (300 kilometers) at its widest east-west point.
Estimates of the Maasai population include more than 150,000 in Tanzania, and close to 150,000 in Kenya.
The Maasai are speakers of the Maa language, which is also spoken by the Samburu and the Chamus living in central Kenya. The origins of Maa have been traced to the east of present-day Juba in southern Sudan. More than twenty variants of Maa exist. The Maasai refer to their language as Olmaa.
Maasai legends and folktales tell much about the origin of present-day Maasai beliefs. These stories include their ascent from a crater, the emergence of the first Maasai prophet-magician (Laibon), the killing of an evil giant (Oltatuani) who raided Maasai herds, and the deception by Olonana of his father to obtain the blessing reserved for his older brother, Senteu (a legend similar to the Biblical story of Jacob and Esau).
One origin myth reveals much about present-day Maasai relations between the sexes. It holds that the Maasai are descended from two equal and complementary tribes, one consisting strictly of females, and the other of males.
The women's tribe, the Moroyok, raised antelopes, including the eland, which the Maasai claim to have been the first species of cattle. Instead of cattle, sheep, and goats, the women had herds of gazelles.
Zebras transported their goods during migrations, and elephants were their devoted friends, tearing down branches and bringing them to the women who used them to build homes and corrals.
The elephants also swept the antelope corrals clean. However, while the women bickered and quarreled, their herds escaped. Even the elephants left them because they could not satisfy the women with their work.
According to the same myth, the Morwak—the men's tribe—raised cattle, sheep, and goats. The men occasionally met women in the forest. The children from these unions would live with their mothers, but the boys would join their fathers when they grew up.
When the women lost their herds, they went to live with the men, and, in doing so, gave up their freedom and their equal status. From that time, they depended on men, had to work for them, and were subject to their authority.
Unlike the predominantly Christian populations of Kenya and Tanzania that surround them, the Maasai traditionally place themselves at the center of their universe as God's chosen people. Like other African religions, the Maasai believe that one high god (Enkai) created the world, forming three groups of people.
The first were the Torrobo (Okiek pygmies), a hunting and gathering people of small stature to whom God gave honey and wild animals as a food source. The second were the neighboring Kikuyu, farmers to whom God gave seed and grain.
The third were the Maasai, to whom God gave cattle, which came to earth sliding down a long rope linking heaven and Earth. While the Torrobo were destined to endure bee stings, and the Kikuyu famines and floods, the Maasai received the noble gift of raising cattle.
A Torrobo, jealous of the Maasai's gift of cattle, cut the "umbilical cord" between heaven and Earth. For many Maasai, the center of their world remains their cattle, which furnish food, clothing, and shelter.
The traditional Maasai calendar has no designated holidays. It is divided into twelve months belonging to three main seasons: Nkokua (the long rains), Oloirurujuruj (the drizzling season), and Oltumuret (the short rains). The names of months are very descriptive.
For example, the second month of the drizzling season is Kujorok , meaning "The whole countryside is beautifully green, and the pasture lands are likened to a hairy caterpillar."
Maasai ceremonial feasts for circumcision, excision (female circumcision), and marriage offer occasions for festive community celebrations, which may be considered similar to holidays.
As the Maasai are integrated into modern Kenyan and Tanzanian life, they also participate in secular (nonreligious) state holidays.
In Kenya, these include Labor Day (May 1), Madaraka Day (June 1), and Kenyatta Day (October 20). In Tanzania, these include Labor Day (May 1), Zanzibar Revolution Day (January 12); Nane Nane (formerly Saba Saba— Farmer's Day, in August); Independence Day (December 9); and Union Day (April 26), which commemorates the unification of Zanzibar and the mainland.
Life for the Maasai is a series of conquests and tests involving the endurance of pain. For men, there is a progression from childhood to warriorhood to elderhood.
At the age of four, a child's lower incisors are taken out with a knife. Young boys test their will by their arms and legs with hot coals. As they grow older, they submit to tattooing on the stomach and the arms, enduring hundreds of small cuts into the skin.
Ear piercing for both boys and girls comes next. The cartilage of the upper ear is pierced with hot iron. When this heals, a hole is cut in the ear lobe and gradually enlarged by inserting rolls of leaves or balls made of wood or mud. Nowadays plastic film canisters may serve this purpose. The bigger the hole, the better. Those earlobes that dangle to the shoulders are considered perfect.
Circumcision (for boys) and excision (for girls) is the next stage, and the most important event in a young Maasai's life. It is a father's ultimate duty to ensure that his children undergo this rite.
The family invites relatives and friends to witness the ceremonies, which may be held in special villages called imanyat . The imanyat dedicated to circumcision of boys are called nkang oo ntaritik (villages of little birds).
Circumcision itself involves great physical pain and tests a youth's courage. If they flinch during the act, boys bring shame and dishonor to themselves and their family.
At a minimum, the members of their age group ridicule them and they pay a fine of one head of cattle. However, if a boy shows great bravery, he receives gifts of cattle and sheep.
Girls must endure an even longer and more painful ritual, which is considered preparation for childbearing. (Girls who become pregnant before excision are banished from the village and stigmatized throughout their lives.) After passing this test of courage, women say they are afraid of nothing.
Guests celebrate the successful completion of these rites by drinking great quantities of mead (a fermented beverage containing honey) and dancing.
Boys are then ready to become warriors, and girls are then ready to bear a new generation of warriors. In a few months, the young woman's future husband will come to pick her up and take her to live with his family.
After passing the tests of childhood and circumcision, boys must fulfill a civic requirement similar to military service. They live for up to several months in the bush, where they learn to overcome pride, egotism, and selfishness.
They share their most prized possessions, their cattle, with other members of the community. However, they must also spend time in the village, where they sacrifice their cattle for ceremonies and offer gifts of cattle to new households.
This stage of development matures a warrior and teaches him nkaniet (respect for others), and he learns how to contribute to the welfare of his community. The stage of "young warriorhood" ends with the eunoto rite, when a man ends his periodic trips into the bush and returns to his village, putting his acquired wisdom to use for the good of the community.
Formerly, cowhides were used to make walls and roofs of temporary homes during migrations. They were also used to sleep on. Permanent and semi-permanent homes resembling igloos were built of sticks and branches plastered with mud, and with cow dung on the roofs.
They were windowless and leaked a great deal. Nowadays, tin roofs and other more modern materials are gradually transforming these simple dwellings.
A few paved trunk roads and many passable dirt roads make Maasailand accessible. Much like their fellow Kenyan and Tanzanian citizens, the Maasai travel by bus and bush taxi when they need to cover distances.
The Maasai are a patriarchal society; men typically speak for women and make decisions in the family. Male elders decide community matters. Until the age of seven, boys and girls are raised together. Mothers remain close to their children, especially their sons, throughout life.
Once circumcised, sons usually move away from their father's village, but they still follow his advice. Girls learn to fear and respect their fathers and must never be near them when they eat.
A person's peers (age-mates) are considered extended family and are obligated to help each other. Age-mates share nearly everything, even their wives. Girls are often promised in marriage long before they are of age. However, even long-term engagements are subject to veto by male family members.
Clothing changes by age and location. Young men, for instance, wear black for several months following their circumcision. However, red is a favored colour. Blue, black, striped, and checkered cloth are also worn, as are multicolored African designs. The Maasai began to replace animal skin, calf hides and sheep skin, with commercial cotton cloth in the 1960s.
Shúkà is the Maa word for sheets traditionally worn wrapped around the body. These are typically red, though with some other colors (e.g. blue) and patterns (e.g. plaid). Pink, even with flowers, is not shunned by warriors. One piece garments known as kanga, a Swahili term, are common. Maasai near the coast may wear kikoi, a type of sarong that comes in many different colors and textiles. However, the preferred style is stripes.
Many Maasai in Tanzania wear simple sandals, which were until recently made from cowhides. They are now soled with tire strips or plastic. Both men and women wear wooden bracelets. The Maasai women regularly weave and bead jewellery. This bead work plays an essential part in the ornamentation of their body. Although there are variations in the meaning of the color of the beads, some general meanings for a few colors are: white, peace; blue, water; red, warrior/blood/bravery.
Beadworking, done by women, has a long history among the Maasai, who articulate their identity and position in society through body ornaments and body painting. Before contact with Europeans, the beads were produced mostly from local raw materials. White beads were made from clay, shells, ivory, or bone. Black and blue beads were made from iron, charcoal, seeds, clay, or horn. Red beads came from seeds, woods, gourds, bone, ivory, copper, or brass. When late in the nineteenth century, great quantities of brightly colored European glass beads arrived in Southeast Africa, beadworkers replaced the older beads with the new materials and began to use more elaborate color schemes. Currently, dense, opaque glass beads with no surface decoration and a naturally smooth finish are preferred.
Traditionally, the Maasai diet consisted of raw meat, raw milk, and raw blood from cattle. Note that the Maasai cattle are of the Zebu variety. In the summer of 1935 Dr. Weston A. Price visited the Maasai and reported that according to Dr. Anderson from the local government hospital in Kenya most tribes were disease-free. Many had not a single tooth attacked by dental caries nor a single malformed dental arch. In particular the Maasai had a very low 0.4% of bone caries. He attributed that to their diet consisting of (in order of volume) raw milk, raw blood, raw meat and some vegetables and fruits, although in many villages they do not eat any fruit or vegetables at all. He noted that when available every growing child and every pregnant or lactating woman would receive a daily ration of raw blood. Dr. Weston A. Price also noted the government efforts back in 1935 to turn the Maasai into farmers. An ILCA study (Nestel 1989) states: "Today, the stable diet of the Maasai consists of cow's milk and maize-meal. The former is largely drunk fresh or in sweet tea and the latter is used to make a liquid or solid porridge. The solid porridge is known as ugali and is eaten with milk; unlike the liquid porridge, ugali is not prepared with milk. Animal fats or butter are used in cooking, primarily of porridge, maize, and beans. Butter is also an important infant food."
Studies by the International Livestock Centre for Africa (Bekure et al. 1991) shows a very great change in the diet of the Maasai towards non-livestock products with maize comprising 12–39 percent and sugar 8–13 percent; about one litre of milk is consumed per person daily. Most of the milk is consumed as fermented milk or buttermilk (a by-product of butter making). Milk consumption figures are very high by any standards. The needs for protein and essential amino acids are more than adequately satisfied. However, the supply of iron, niacin, vitamin C, vitamin A, thiamine and energy are never fully met by a purely milk diet. Due to changing circumstances, especially the seasonal nature of the milk supply and frequent droughts, most pastoralists, including the Maasai, now include substantial amounts of grain in their diets.
The Maasai herd goats and sheep, including the Red Maasai sheep, as well as the more prized cattle. Electrocardiogram tests applied to 400 young adult male Maasai found no evidence whatsoever of heart disease, abnormalities or malfunction. Further study with carbon-14 tracers showed that the average cholesterol level was about 50 percent of that of an average American. These findings were ascribed to the amazing fitness of morans, which was evaluated as "Olympic standard".
Soups are probably the most important use of plants for food by Maasai. Acacia nilotica is the most frequently used soup plant. The root or stem bark is boiled in water and the decoction drunk alone or added to soup. The Maasai are fond of taking this as a drug, and is known to make them energetic, aggressive and fearless. Maasai eat soup laced with bitter bark and roots containing cholesterol-lowering saponins; those urban Maasai who don't have access to the bitter plants tend to develop heart disease. Although consumed as snacks, fruits constitute a major part of the food ingested by children and women looking after cattle as well as morans in the wilderness.
The mixing of cattle blood, obtained by nicking the jugular vein, and milk is done to prepare a ritual drink for special celebrations and as nourishment for the sick. However, the inclusion of blood in the traditional diet is waning due to the reduction of livestock numbers. More recently, the Maasai have grown dependent on food produced in other areas such as maize meal, rice, potatoes, cabbage (known to the Maasai as goat leaves) etc. The Maasai who live near crop farmers have engaged in cultivation as their primary mode of subsistence. In these areas, plot sizes are generally not large enough to accommodate herds of animals; thus the Maasai are forced to farm.
As a historically nomadic and then semi-nomadic people, the Maasai have traditionally relied on local, readily available materials and indigenoustechnology to construct their housing. The traditional Maasai house was in the first instance designed for people on the move and was thus very impermanent in nature.
The Inkajijik (houses) are either star-shaped or circular, and are constructed by able-bodied women. The structural framework is formed of timber poles fixed directly into the ground and interwoven with a lattice of smaller branches, which is then plastered with a mix of mud, sticks, grass, cow dung and human urine, and ash.The cow dung ensures that the roof is water-proof. The enkaj is small, measuring about 3x5 m and standing only 1.5 m high. Within this space, the family cooks, eats, sleeps, socializes, and stores food, fuel, and other household possessions.
Small livestock are also often accommodated within the enkaji.Villages are enclosed in a circular fence (an enkang) built by the men, usually of thornedacacia, a native tree. At night, all cows, goats, and sheep are placed in an enclosure in the centre, safe from wild animals.
Maasai music traditionally consists of rhythms provided by a chorus of vocalists singing harmonies while a song leader, or olaranyani, sings the melody. The olaranyani is usually the singer who can best sing that song, although several individuals may lead a song. The olaranyani begins by singing a line or title (namba) of a song. The group will respond with one unanimous call in acknowledgment, and the olaranyani will sing a verse over the group's rhythmic throat singing. Each song has its specific namba structure based on call-and-response. Common rhythms are variations of 5/4, 6/4 and 3/4 time signatures. Lyrics follow a typical theme and are often repeated verbatim over time. Neck movements accompany singing. When breathing out the head is leaned forward. The head is tilted back for an inward breath. Overall the effect is one of polyphonic syncopation. Unlike most other African tribes, Maasai widely use drone polyphony.
Women chant lullabies, humming songs, and songs praising their sons. Nambas, the call-and-response pattern, repetition of nonsense phrases, monophonic melodies, repeated phrases following each verse being sung on a descending scale, and singers responding to their own verses are characteristic of singing by females. When many Maasai women gather together, they sing and dance among themselves.
One exception to the vocal nature of Maasai music is the use of the horn of the Greater Kudu to summon morans for the Eunoto ceremony.
Both singing and dancing sometimes occur around manyattas, and involve flirting. Young men will form a line and chant rhythmically, "Oooooh-yah", with a growl and staccato cough along with the thrust and withdrawal of their lower bodies. Girls stand in front of the men and make the same pelvis lunges while singing a high dying fall of "Oiiiyo..yo" in counterpoint to the men. Although bodies come in close proximity, they do not touch.
Eunoto, the coming of age ceremony of the warrior, can involve ten or more days of singing, dancing and ritual. The warriors of the Il-Oodokilani perform a kind of march-past as well as the adumu, or aigus, sometimes referred as "the jumping dance" by non-Maasai. (Both adumu and aigus are Maa verbs meaning "to jump" with adumu meaning "To jump up and down in a dance".) Warriors are well known for, and often photographed during, this competitive jumping. A circle is formed by the warriors, and one or two at a time will enter the center to begin jumping while maintaining a narrow posture, never letting their heels touch the ground. Members of the group may raise the pitch of their voices based on the height of the jump.
The girlfriends of the moran (intoyie) parade themselves in their most spectacular costumes as part of the eunoto. The mothers of the moran sing and dance in tribute to the courage and daring of their sons.
The piercing and stretching of earlobes is common among the Maasai. Various materials have been used to both pierce and stretch the lobes, including thorns for piercing, twigs, bundles of twigs, stones, the cross section of elephant tusks and empty film canisters.
Fewer and fewer Maasai, particularly boys, follow this custom.Women wear various forms of beaded ornaments in both the ear lobe, and smaller piercings at the top of the ear.
The removal of deciduous canine tooth buds in early childhood is a practice that has been documented in the Maasai of Kenya and Tanzania.
There exists a strong belief among the Maasai that diarrhoea, vomiting and other febrile illnesses of early childhood are caused by the gingival swelling over the canine region, which is thought to contain 'worms' or 'nylon' teeth.
This belief and practice is not unique to the Maasai. In rural Kenya a group of 95 children aged between six months and two years were examined in 1991/92.
87% were found to have undergone the removal of one or more deciduous canine tooth buds. In an older age group (3–7 years of age), 72% of the 111 children examined exhibited missing mandibular or maxillary deciduous canines.
Head shaving is common at many rites of passage, representing the fresh start that will be made as one passes from one to another of life's chapters.Warriors are the only members of the Maasai community to wear long hair, which they weave in thinly braided strands.
Upon reaching the age of 3 "moons", the child is named and the head is shaved clean apart from a tuft of hair, which resembles a cock's comb, from the nape of the neck to the forehead.
The cockade symbolizes the "state of grace" accorded to infants.A woman who has miscarried in a previous pregnancy would position the hair at the front or back of the head, depending on whether she had lost a boy or a girl.
Two days before boys are circumcised, their heads are shaved.The young warriors then allow their hair to grow, and spend a great deal of time styling the hair. It is dressed with animal fat and ocher, and parted across the top of the head at ear level.
Hair is then plaited: parted into small sections which are divided into two and twisted, first separately then together. Cotton or wool threads may be used to lengthen hair. The plaited hair may hang loose or be gathered together and bound with leather.When warriors go through the Eunoto, and become elders, their long plaited hair is shaved off.
As males have their heads shaved at the passage from one stage of life to another, a bride to be will have her head shaved, and two rams will be slaughtered in honor of the occasion.
Maasai society is strongly patriarchal in nature, with elder men, sometimes joined by retired elders, deciding most major matters for each Maasai group. A full body of oral law covers many aspects of behavior. Formal execution is unknown, and normally payment in cattle will settle matters. An out-of-court process is also practiced called 'amitu', 'to make peace', or 'arop', which involves a substantial apology. The monotheistic Maasai worship a single deity called Enkai or Engai. Engai has a dual nature: Engai Narok (Black God) is benevolent, and Engai Na-nyokie (Red God) is vengeful. There are also two pillars or totems of Maasai society: Oodo Mongi, the Red Cow and Orok Kiteng, the Black Cow with a subdivision of five clans or family trees. The maasai also has a totemic animal which is the lion however, the animal can be killed. The way the Maasai kill the lion differs from trophy hunting as it is used in the rite of passage ceremony. The "Mountain of God", Ol Doinyo Lengai, is located in northernmost Tanzania and can be seen from Lake Natron in southernmost Kenya. The central human figure in the Maasai religious system is the laibon whose roles include shamanistic healing, divination and prophecy, and ensuring success in war or adequate rainfall. Today, they have a political role as well due to the elevation of leaders. Whatever power an individual laibon had was a function of personality rather than position. Many Maasai have also adopted Christianity and Islam. The Maasai are known for their intricate jewelry and for decades, have sold these items to tourists as a business.
A once high infant mortality rate among the Maasai has led to babies not truly being recognized until they reach an age of 3 months ilapaitin. Educating Maasai women to use clinics and hospitals during pregnancy has enabled more infants to survive. The exception is found in extremely remote areas. For Maasai living a traditional life, the end of life is virtually without ceremony, and the dead are left out for scavengers. A corpse rejected by scavengers is seen as having something wrong with it, and liable to cause social disgrace; therefore, it is not uncommon for bodies to be covered in fat and blood from a slaughtered ox. Burial has in the past been reserved for great chiefs, since it is believed to be harmful to the soil.
Traditional Maasai lifestyle centres around their cattle which constitute their primary source of food. The measure of a man's wealth is in terms of cattle and children. A herd of 50 cattle is respectable, and the more children the better. A man who has plenty of one but not the other is considered to be poor. A Maasai religious belief relates that God gave them all the cattle on earth, leading to the belief that rustling cattle from other tribes is a matter of taking back what is rightfully theirs, a practice that has become much less common.
All of the Maasai’s needs for food are met by their cattle. They eat the meat, drink the milk daily, and drink the blood on occasion. Bulls, oxen and lambs are slaughtered for meat on special occasions and for ceremonies. Though the Maasai’s entire way of life has historically depended on their cattle, more recently with their cattle dwindling, the Maasai have grown dependent on food such as sorghum, rice, potatoes and cabbage (known to the Maasai as goat leaves).
The central unit of Maasai society is the age-set. Young boys are sent out with the calves and lambs as soon as they can toddle, but childhood for boys is mostly playtime, with the exception of ritual beatings to test courage and endurance. Girls are responsible for chores such as cooking and milking, skills which they learn from their mothers at an early age. Every 15 years or so, a new and individually named generation of Morans or Il-murran (warriors) will be initiated. This involves most boys between 12 and 25, who have reached puberty and are not part of the previous age-set. One rite of passage from boyhood to the status of junior warrior is a circumcision ceremony performed without anaesthetic. In modern times, boys living close to towns with doctors may endure the ceremony in safer conditions, but still without anaesthetic because they must endure the pain that will lead them to manhood. This ritual is typically performed by the elders, who use a sharpened knife and makeshift cattle hide bandages for the procedure. The Maa word for circumcision is emorata. The boy must endure the operation in silence. Expressions of pain bring dishonor, albeit temporarily. Any exclamations can cause a mistake in the delicate and tedious process, which can result in lifelong scarring, dysfunction, and pain. The healing process will take 3–4 months, during which urination is painful and nearly impossible at times, and boys must remain in black clothes for a period of 4–8 months.
During this period, the newly circumcised young men will live in a "manyatta", a "village" built by their mothers. The manyatta has no encircling barricade for protection, emphasizing the warrior role of protecting the community. No inner kraal is built, since warriors neither own cattle nor undertake stock duties. Further rites of passage are required before achieving the status of senior warrior, culminating in the eunoto ceremony, the "coming of age".
When a new generation of warriors is initiated, the existing Il-murran will graduate to become junior elders, who are responsible for political decisions until they in turn become senior elders. This graduation from warrior to junior elder takes place at a large gathering known as Eunoto. The long hair of the former warriors is shaved off; elders must wear their hair short. Warriors are not allowed to have sexual relations with circumcised women, though they may have girlfriends who are uncircumcised girls. At Eunoto, the warriors who managed to abide by this rule are specially recognized.
The warriors spend most of their time now on walkabouts throughout Maasai lands, beyond the confines of their sectional boundaries. They are also much more involved in cattle trading than they used to be, developing and improving basic stock through trades and bartering rather than stealing as in the past.
One myth about the Maasai is that each young man is supposed to kill a lion before he is circumcised. Lion hunting was an activity of the past, but it has been banned in Southeast Africa – yet lions are still hunted when they maul Maasai livestock, and young warriors who engage in traditional lion killing do not face significant consequences. Increasing concern regarding lion populations has given rise to at least one program which promotes accepting compensation when a lion kills livestock, rather than hunting and killing the predator. Nevertheless, killing a lion gives one great value and celebrity status in the community.
Young women also undergo excision ("female circumcision", "female genital mutilation," "emorata") as part of an elaborate rite of passage ritual called "Emuratare," the ceremony that initiates young Maasai girls into adulthood through ritual circumcision and then into early arranged marriages. The Maasai believe that female circumcision is necessary and Maasai men may reject any woman who has not undergone it as either not marriageable or worthy of a much-reduced bride price. In Eastern Africa, uncircumcised women, even those highly educated members of parliament like Linah Kilimo, can be accused of not being mature enough to be taken seriously. To others the practice of female circumcision is known as female genital mutilation, and draws a great deal of criticism from both abroad and many women who have undergone it, such as Maasai activist Agnes Pareyio. It has recently been replaced in some instances by a "cutting with words" ceremony involving singing and dancing in place of the mutilation. However, the practice remains deeply ingrained and valued by the culture. The Maa word for circumcision, "emorata," is used for both female and male genital mutilation. Female genital cutting is illegal in both Kenya and Tanzania. These circumcisions are usually performed by an invited 'practitioner' who is often not Maasai, usually from a Dorobo group. The knives and blades which make the cut are fashioned by blacksmiths, il-kunono, who make their weapons for the Maasai who do not make their own:(knives, short swords (ol alem or simi or seme), spears, etc.). Similarly to the young men, women who will be circumcised wear dark clothing, paint their faces with markings, and then cover their faces on completion of the ceremony.
Married women who become pregnant are excused from all heavy work such as milking and gathering firewood. Sexual relations are also banned and there are specific rules applied to pregnant women.
The Maasai are traditionally polygynous; this is thought to be a long-standing and practical adaptation to high infant and warrior mortality rates. Polyandry is also practiced. However, today this practice is usually abandoned. A woman marries not just her husband but the entire age group. Men are expected to give up their bed to a visiting age-mate guest; however, today this practice is usually abandoned. The woman decides strictly on her own if she will join the visiting male. Any child which may result is the husband's child and his descendant in the patrilineal order of Maasai society. "Kitala", a kind of divorce or refuge, is possible in the house of a wife's father, usually for gross mistreatment of the wife. Repayment of the bride price, custody of children, etc., are mutually agreed upon.
Each child belongs to an "age set" from birth. To control the vices of pride, jealousy, and selfishness, children must obey the rules governing relationships within the age set, between age sets, and between the sexes.
Warriors, for example, must share a girlfriend with at least one of their age-group companions. All Maasai of the same sex are considered equal within their age group.
Many tensions exist between children and adults, elders and warriors, and men and women. The Maasai control these with taboos (prohibitions). A daughter, for example, must not be present while her father is eating.
Only non-excised girls may accompany warriors into their forest havens, where they eat meat. Although the younger warriors may wish to dominate their communities, they must follow rules and respect their elders' advice.
The Maasai have a rich collection of oral literature that includes myths, legends, folktales, riddles, and proverbs. These are passed down through the generations.
The Maasai also compose many songs. Women are seldom at a loss for melodies and words when some heroic action by a warrior inspires praise. They also improvise teasing songs, work songs for milking and for plastering roofs, and songs with which to ask their traditional god (Enkai) for rain and other needs.
Labor among traditional herding Maasai is clearly divided. The man's responsibility is his cattle. He must protect them and find them the best possible pasture land and watering holes. Women raise children, maintain the home, cook, and do the milking.
They also take care of calves and clean, sterilize, and decorate calabashes (gourds). It is the women's special right to offer milk to the men and to visitors.
Children help parents with their tasks. A boy begins herding at the age of four by looking after lambs and young calves, and by the time he is twelve, he may be able to care for cows and bulls as well as move sheep and cattle to new pastures. Girls help their mothers with domestic chores such as drawing water, gathering firewood, and patching roofs.
Ceremonies such as the eunoto , when warriors return to their villages as mature men, offer occasions for parties and merriment. Ordinarily, however, recreation is much more subdued. After the men return to their camp from a day's herding, they typically tell stories of their exploits. Young girls sing and dance for the men. In the villages, elders enjoy inviting their age-mates to their houses or to rustic pubs (muratina manyatta) for a drink.
The Maasai people have traditionally viewed the killing of lions as a rite of passage. Historically, lion hunts were done by individuals, however, due to reduced lion populations, lion hunts done solo are discouraged by elders.
Most hunts are now partaken by groups of 10 warriors. Group hunting, known in Maasai as olamayio, gives the lion population a chance to grow. Maasai customary laws prohibit killing a sick or infirm lion. The killing of lionesses is also prohibited unless provoked.
At the end of each age-set, usually after a decade, the warriors count all of their lion kills to compare them with those hunted by the former age-set in order to measure accomplishment.
Empikas (warrior delegation) plan a lion hunt in advance in secret. Only the warriors are permitted to know about the day of the hunt. The secret is considered so important that Ilbarnot (young warriors) from the same age-set are denied information regarding the hunt, due to the older warriors fearing discovery from anti-hunt groups. If a warrior is found guilty of spreading rumours, he is punished through beating. In addition, the guilty warrior will be looked down upon throughout his entire age group's cycle.
Solo lion hunting requires confidence and advanced hunting skills, requiring a dedicated warrior. Unlike group hunting, solo lion hunting is usually not an organised event, sometimes occurring when a warrior is out herding cattle.
The lion hunt starts at dawn, when elders and women are still asleep. The warriors meet discreetly at a nearby landmark where they depart to predetermined areas. Before departing, the Ilmorijo (older warriors) filter out the group in order that only the bravest and strongest warriors take part.
The resulting group is known as Ilmeluaya (fearless warriors). The rejected young warriors are commanded by older warriors to keep the information of the hunt confidential, until the return of their favoured colleagues.
There have been cases whereby older warriors have forced warriors to give up their excess weaponry, seeing as it is considered insulting to bring more than a spear which is sufficient to kill a lion.
After a successful hunt, a one-week celebration takes place throughout the community. The warrior who struck the first blow is courted by the women and receives an Imporro, a doubled-sided beaded shoulder strap. The warrior wears this ornament during ceremonies. The community will honor Olmurani lolowuaru (the hunter) with much respect throughout his lifetime.
The Maasai do not eat game meat, and use the bodies of their killed lions for three products; the mane, tail and claws. The mane is beaded by women of the community, and given back to the hunter, who wears it over his head on special occasions.
After the meat ceremony, when a warrior becomes a junior elder, the mane is thrown away and greased with a mixture of sheep oil and ochre. This sacrificial event is done to avoid evil spirits.
The lion's tail is stretched and softened by the warriors, then handed over to the women for beading. The warriors keep the tail in their manyatta (warriors camp), until the end of warriorhood.
The lion tail is considered the most valuable product and after graduation, the warriors must gather to pay their last special respect to the tail before it is disposed of.