Masai Tribe Essay, Research Paper
The Masai have always been different from other African tribes. Their bright red robes set them apart visually. With a spear in hand, they are calm and courageous regardless of the danger. The armed British troops who drove the Masai from their lands in the late 19th century had a great respect for the Masai.
In common with the wildlife with which they co-exist, the Masai need a lot of land. Unlike many other tribes in Kenya, they live by herding cattle and goats. They believe Engai (their chief god) gave them all the cattle in the world. They referred to the neighboring tribes of farmers and hunter-gatherers as Ndorobo, meaning poor folk. This is because the Masai measured wealth by the number of cattle, so people without cattle, or those who eat the meat of wild animals are considered poor. The Masai don t have fixed ranches with permanent buildings. Instead they construct a boma (village) for a group of families. The boma is a circle of huts,one per family, enclosed within a circular fence of thorn bushes. the women of each household construct the hut from cattle dung and clay. Periodically, the group will abandon their boma and construct a new one in an area with better water and grazing.
The Masai tribe are East African nomadic people speaking Maa, which is an Eastern Nilotic language. Like other tribes, they are a nation only in the sense that they speak one language, follow a common way of life, and observe the same customs and beliefs. They have a barely sufficient, yet fairly homogeneous traditions of immigration, beginning with an ancestor called Maasinda who made a gigantic ladder which enabled the forefathers of the tribe to climb up the long cliff from the Rudoph basin to the Uasin Gishu plateau north of Kitale. From there they deployed in six main sub-tribes over the central part of the Kenya highlands and southwards, down the line of the Rift Valley, into Tanganyika. The Masai went into a rapid southward movement and broke through the east centre of the Nilo-Hamitic world towards the southern border area. In doing so, they pushed through and past the Nandi group of tribes – the Sapki, Pok, and Kony of Mount Elgon; the Suk (Pokot), Keyo, and Tuken of Baringo; the Nandi proper, and the Kipsigis, farther south towards the Mau. Today the Masai, who number approximately 250,000, live in southern Kenya and Northern Tanzania.
The Masai divide themselves into age sets, creating an organized, regimented social structure in which every member is given a responsibility. By doing so, they were able to become a powerful and cohesive society, holding sway over much of their region until the white settlers arrived. They traditionally go through stages of development. they are Childhood, Initiation, Warrior rank, and Elderhood. Both sexes in Masai villages basically live a carefree time during childhood. However, they must go through initiation at the ages between 13 to 17.
During initiation, Masai boys spend their days preparing for circumcision, which is an important tradition for them. It signifies the beginning of adulthood and the ability to face obstacles with courage and bravery. During this time, the boys gather honey to brew beer for a celebration and hunt birds to get feathers that will adorn the headdresses they wear as they heal from the wound caused by the circumcision. On the evening before the rite, the mothers (or woman of the same age-set) shave their son s heads, an emotional moment in which parent and child silently say good-bye to each other. All Masai rituals mark the beginning, and the closing of something else, distilling the passage of time into one symbolic instant. Before sunrise the next morning, the boys numb themselves with cold river water and then circumcised (without anesthesia) by a selected elder who is paid by livestock by each boy s family. During the circumcision, it is important that the boys remain calm and quiet. Even a blink of an eye would be perceived as a sign of weakness and an embarrassment to their families. After initiation, every Masai boy s goal is to become a moran or warrior.
In the warrior stage, which is the next age set, they live like wolves for seven years. they move out of their mother s home and roam the plain in packs, moving from village to village looking for girls; when their tired of this, they sleep together in the bush. They dance, paint themselves, and make up songs. They also used to hunt lions to test their virility, until the government banned lion hunting in the 70 s. During warriorhood, they grow taller, stronger, their hair grows longer, and they wear beads that Masai girls make for them. They become the most beautiful members of the community, and everyone loves them for it. Some fall in love with their own reflections , which they constantly check in the hand mirrors that hang around their necks. A man s warrior days are the most privileged part of his life.
After seven years of warriorhood, they must relinquish their role. On the first day of the eunoto (the warrior s initiation into elderhood) they march in from the plains and make their entrance to the manyatta, a village specifically constructed for the ceremony. To the Masai, this is one of the saddest days of their life. They cry out and lament over their very privileged warrior days. To give up their freedom is more than they can bear. Some continue walking as they hold their grief, while others collapse, foaming at the mouth, or faint. Elderhood is a period of responsibility for both sexes. In this stage of life, they marry, have children, and attain their cattle. His influence increases until he retires.
The Masai haven t fared well in modern africa. Until the British settlers arrived, fierce Masai tribes occupied the most fertile lands. They struggled to preserve their territory, but their spears were no match for armed British troops and their lawyers never had a chance in British courtrooms. They lost about two-thirds of the lands they occupied and were relocated to less fertile parts of Kenya and Tanzania. Other tribes, such as Kikuyu for instance, have readily adopted to modern business, big cities and formal systems of government. The Masai, though, have persisted in their traditional ways, so as the country takes more land for national parks and intensified agriculture, they suffer.
One of the positive things happening for the Masai in recent years has been the development of a specific form of eco-tourism. Whereas other tribes regard elephants, lion, zebra, antelope, and giraffes as food, or something that destroys their crops, the Masai and their herds co-exist with the wildlife. This peaceful co-existence creates the potential for a form of low-impact tourism where some tribes, like that of Kuku Group Ranch, benefit in that they are able to retain their land in a natural state, generate some income to improve their nutrition and education of their children, and at the same time preserve their traditional ways and dignity.