|Indigenous Culture Research Project – The Maasai Tribe in Kenya
Kenya is located in Eastern Africa, bordering the Indian Ocean to the East, Ethiopia to the North, Somalia to the North East, and Tanzania to the South, Sudan North West and Uganda to the West. The Equator passes through Kenya. Kenya has plains rising to central highlands and is bisected by Great Rift Valley with a fertile plateau in west.
In Kenya, there are many famous cultures, which are known worldwide. One of the most known Indigenous Culture, in Kenya is the Maasai tribe, who are located on southern border of Kenya with Tanzania in the Rift Valley.
The Maasai tribe are a very famous warrior tribe in Kenya whose livelihood depends on herding cattle. They live in small settlements of 8-15 huts per kraal (Maasai term for group of boma). The boma is protected by 1-2 inches long of thorn bushes, which are as sharp as barbed wire. The thorn bushes are to protect the family and the cattle, or other domestic animals from any danger e.g. attack from wild animals. Moreover, Maasai are semi nomadic, which means they travel around looking for, food for themselves and for their life stock.
Kenya is a democratic republic country. The President of Kenya is both the head of state and the head of government. Between the President and the Prime Minister, they share the executive powers that coordinate and supervise the cabinet.
Kenya’s presidential term is renewed every 5 years, when the people of Kenya vote for a president. The administration system is divided into sub- locations, locations and 69 rural districts. A presidential appointed district commissioner heads each district. The districts are joined to form 8 provinces, namely Central, Coast, Eastern, Nairobi, North Eastern, Nyanza, Rift Valley and Western. The president appoints the head of each province. Citizens rely on the district commissionaire and chiefs for proper governance. The Maasai’s elect their chief leader who will make the decisions for them in cases of conflict.
Between the Maasai’s they have a strong patriarchal. The elder men join with retired elders deciding on most major matters for each Maasai group. The elders cover many aspects of behaviors, and conflicts in the tribe. The elderly are also responsible for organizing and leading the celebrations and ceremonies.
The Indigenous Maasai tribe, share the habitat with the wildlife, by grazing their cattle in the animal parks. However, two years ago the government threatened the Maasai to move, or have boundaries and not to interact with the wildlife. The maasai, objected to the government’s demand. As one of the Maasai elder says, “It is impossible to separate milk and water, so as to separate the Maasai people from wildlife and habitat conservation."
Maasai’s have very little agriculture, but they are very known around the world for being herders. They keep livestock’s such as cattle, goats which are their primary sources of income. Between Maasai and other communities, they have continued to trade with livestock and milk.
Since 1980’s they became involved with trade in nearby cities. Locally they make beadwork; baskets and hand craft which are then sold by young Maasai men and women. They also trade in grains, clothing, cows and goats for uniform and children’s fees for their children. Once a month, the Maasai sell their craft works, baskets and beadworks, at established markets in big cities, which is an attraction to many tourists. The Maasai have also become very famous in exporting these ornaments etc.
The Maasai society is organised into a hierarchical male age group. Every male member passes through well-organized stages of being a warrior and then an elder. In the Maasai tribe they use elders for leadership instead of traditional chiefs.
e) Beliefs systems
Gods: The Maasai are monotheistic: they believe that there is only one God, and they call God Enkai or Engai. Engai is a single defined character with a dual nature: Engai Narok (Black God) is known for expressing goodwill or kindness. Engai Nanyokie (Red God) is the god of desiring. The Maasai religious system is the laibon (The vampires of Africa nearly all referred themselves as Laibon) who may be involved in: shamanistic healing, divination and prophecy, ensuring success in war or adequate rainfall. Many Maasai’s have become Christians, and to a lesser extent, Muslims.Their sun god is named Ruwa and lives on Mount Kilimanjaro.
The Maasai believe that at birth the Nagai gives each guardian spirit block of the danger. The evil is then carried off to the desert and the good spirits go to a land where there is richness and many cattle.
At the age of 15 Maasai boys have their coming-of-age ceremony. This ceremony indicates the beginning of manhood. During the ceremony the young boys are circumcised and become Morani or young warriors. However, the government of Kenya has made circumcision illegal for girls. After the festival, the Maasai warriors need to live together in a boma, for approximately 5-7 years. After living together, they may marry a woman, raise a family, and still tend for their cattle. People of like age live together in bomas. Therefore, the elderly will all be together, but will educate the younger Maasai, who live in a different boma. The elderly Maasai help teach traditions and skills to their grandchildren.
Food: The Maasai rely on milk, meat, blood from the cattle as their major part of the diet. Maasai tribe drink blood during a circumcision ceremony. A woman who has given birth and the sick also drink it. In times of a drought only blood is used in place of drinking water.
g) Science and technology
Over time, the Maasai have developed scientifically. Currently, they use mobile phones to communicate with one another. They use solar energy in schools and at homes because they live very far from the main source of electricity. They have started using radios, televisions etc for news and entertainment. More roads have been built which enables them to travel faster to different places. Through Government projects and foreign aid, they now have water facilities closer to their homes rather than travelling approximately 30km a day to fetch water from the nearby lake or river. From these they will become a better-developed society, which will continually grow.
h) Art and architecture
Crafts and objects
The Maasai are semi-nomadic cultures who live in groups of 8-15 huts. They rely on the local readily available materials. The structural framework of the hut is formed of timber poles fixed directly into the ground and interwoven with smaller branches, which is then plastered with a mix of mud, sticks, grass, cow dung, and ash. The cow dung ensures the roof and walls are water-proof. Once the mixture is mixed properly, they smear it smoothly on the walls of the hut to keep it strong for many years.
The Maasai art is dominated with beadwork. The Maasai are known for their beautiful art beadworks that have bright colours, jewellery that jingles and dangle, which are very eye catching to tourist around the world. The beautiful artwork became very popular since the 1900s, when the Maasai began trading with the Europeans. Traditionally local raw materials such as seeds, skins, bones, gourds and wood are used in the craft.
Most of the Maasai beadworks are made of five major colours, which represent something special. Blue coloured beads represent the sky, which provides water for the cattle, yellow represent hospitality because it is the colour of the animal skins on guest beds. Red represents the bravery and strength in the society and is the colour of the cow’s blood that is slaughtered when the community comes together in celebrations. Green represents the land, which provides food for the cattle.
Maasai music is incredible and interesting because they have a different style of music from other tribes. On special occasion, such as the Eunoto ceremony, a kudu horn is blown. Apart from the kudu horns, they believe that everything else comes from the voice.
Apart from important occasions of life such as circumcision and marriage, they sing and dance during the rainy days. A group of men, usually Morani warriors, stand in a row or a circle and sing a very deeply rhythmical song, which starts with low grunting from the chest and throats, of the men. The leader will start to sing a short phrase and then the grunting continues, with a overlapping. From this, they create abuzz, like the Shawm and Ghaita of North Africa. The singers also dance to the music. Soloists jump as high as they possibly can whilst the other singers sway their bodies back and forth. When the dancer is tired, another takes his place.