Massai Culture Essay, Research Paper
I have chosen my paper on the African Cattle People, specifically the Massai Culture. The Massai culture seemed to have more than meets the eye when we studied them in class, so I had to venture on to a website to see what else I could find out about them. In general, the Massai have several practices: circumcision and clitoridectomy, an age group system, shaving of the heads of women, extraction of two lower front teeth, the one-legged stance of the heron, and the use of spit in greeting and benediction. The Massai’s religion, laibons, circumcisions, cattle, warriors, elders and cattle raiding were just a few characteristics of their culture, making themselves unique of all the rest of the world.
Speaking first of religion, they seemed to be much like the Jews. The Massai regarded themselves as God’s chosen people, and share the belief in God’s promise to send them a Messiah. I found that there are two aspects of God: Engai Narok, the God which is black, the good God; and Engai Na-nyokie, the red or avenging god, which is an aspect of God’s holy anger. The black God is seen in thunder and rain, which brings grass to the cattle and prosperity to the Massai; the red God is expressed in violent lightning, which can strike and kill, and the extreme dry season, which brings famine and death. To the Massai, God is the master of life and death. One other interesting thing about the Massai religion was a mountain they called, Oldoinyo le Engai, “The Mountain of God”. The Massai think that it’s a gift from God, so they worship in its shadow. What really was fascinating was the story behind Engai, the Massai’s Supreme God. Engai had three children, and he gave each a gift. The first child received and arrow to make his living by hunting, the second a hoe to dig the land and grow crops, and the third a stick to use in herding cattle. And the third son, whose name was Natero Kop, was the father of the Massai. I just find it crazy how these certain cultures can come up with stories, theories or whatever it is they are coming up with. And to believe that they entrusted all their faith and never were led astray from their religion, makes me develop a strong respect for their culture.
In studying the Massai in class I became aware of the strong representation that cattle made in the Massai culture. The people would go as far as naming the cattle as if they were their own pets. The believed that cattle were the next best things to God, cattle were everything. Since the Massai were semi-nomadic pastoralists, this meant they would travel searching for new grazing pastures. Going back to their Gods; Massai believe that the Rain God Engai granted all cattle to them for safe keeping when the earth and sky split. The bond between the Massai and the cattle was inseparable. The Massai knew each cattle by voice, color and eye. The Massai would slice the ears of the cattle in a certain way so they can recognize that it belongs to a certain clan. The cattle would provide the following for the Massai: milk; blood; a simple cheese and meat; dung for fuel; plaster for their huts which are made of dung mixed with earth; hides for bed covering and garments; urine for cleansing hands; tanning leather and cleaning gourds; and butterfat for their rituals and baby food. I can easily see why the Massai treasured these cows so much; because the cattle gave them almost everything to live from. I would never think to get anything from a cow than simply a Quarter Pounder with cheese from McDonalds.
Other traditions that took place in Massai culture not learned in class were Massai dances. Massai men would take part in jumping dances, the purpose to compete for height. They all would gather in a circle while 1 or 2 would move into the center. With their arms straight against their sides they would bounce in a rhythmic fashion to chants of the other men. This dance is called, Adumu. Adumu is said to test the strength and endurance and will determine a warrior’s status within the group. Another tradition taken up by women would be “fertility festivals”. Women would dance from village to village, attempting to spread their seed. In American society this type of festival would be hard to come by, even though large group of people might enjoy this type of practice. A woman who could not bear children was seen as unlucky, and other fertile women would attack her.
I found several interesting facts about the Massai culture that would make up a 30- page paper, unfortunately I could only list a few. I find it fascinating to explore different cultures; and to compare, and contrast to American society. I find it more mesmerizing to watch people’s expression on their face when they hear of what another culture does. Our society is so filled with stereotypical routines that we have no idea of what’s out in the real world; but that’s an entirely different topic of its own that I’ll refrain from discussing. I would like to say that I have enjoyed this class thoroughly and learned a great deal from the material we have discussed.