The culture I am studying is the Maasai (Masai) tribe of Kenya and Tanzania. Their native language is Maa, but many also speak Swahili and English. Maasai people are known very well for their customs and long-lasting traditions. Many of these traditions include circumcision, arranged marriage, and village-style living. They live together in huts along with their entire extended family. Maasai culture is very patriarchal, where the elders, especially men, receive the highest respect and are responsible for making all important decisions. In Our Secret, Siri Aang, it describes the custom of young people dropping their heads and eyes when in the presence of an elder as a sign of respect. The book also describes their intricate jewelry. Necklaces are worn in layers full of beads which many times are a beautiful shade of red. The book also describes naming ceremonies for babies where the elders name the child based on a personality trait that they feel the baby will grow into and change the world with. The Maasai people are also polygamists. The book describes the men marrying multiple women and having many children with each woman. They believe wealth is determined partly by the number of children one has. When a girl starts her menstrual cycle she is almost instantly married off to a man of her father’s choosing. The tribe sees this moment in a young woman’s life as the happiest time, knowing that she will soon be bearing children to her husband. Both young boys and young girls go through emuratare , where a very painful cutting is performed, and any cry of pain is seen as weakness and no pain medication is allowed. Many tribes in this era have begun trying to eliminate this practice. The Maasai people also believe that cows are sacred and believe that they own all the cows in the world.
The books I have used for research are:
Our secret, Siri Aang by Cristina Kessler
Papa do you love me? by Barbara M. Joosse ; illustrated by Barbara Lavallee
Masai and I by Virginia Kroll ; illustrations by Nancy Carpenter
Kuntai: a Masai child by Muriel Nicolotti
14 cows for America by Carmen Agra Deedy
The author of Our Secret, Siri Aang does a fantastic job of bringing the culture alive for the reader. As I read the book, I felt like I was with Namelok, the young girl who ran free through the fields and encountered many animals and daring adventures. I could envision every detail that was mentioned, including what the Maasai people look and dress like. One passage states, “The older women had closely shaven heads, with beaded bands around where their hairlines used to be…Long dangling strings of red and white beads hung from holes in the tops of her ears, and her droopy earflaps of skin supported metal triangles,” (Pages 13-14).
When I first started reading this set list of books, I didn’t have any background knowledge about this tribe. I researched online many facts and as I continued to read the books the information made much more sense. I was able to link together information that I had just learned to better understand the context of the writing. There are a lot of aspects of this culture that I do not agree with, and actually have an extreme problem with. The biggest example is the emuratare practice. In my opinion, this is unnecessary abuse. The side effects of this procedure can, in some cases, be life-threatening. In most women, and some men, the scar tissue swells so much that urination can become nearly impossible. I would love to know that this traditional procedure was banned in the entire world. I cannot believe that any one would think this procedure was the only way to become a man or woman and that so many people would still follow it proudly.
I believe this study would be better for seventh grade, rather than elementary school. Elementary students could study the culture very simply, but a more in depth study should be reserved for older students. Several Social Studies objectives could be used:
4.03 Examine key ethical ideas and values deriving from religious, artistic, political, economic, and educational traditions, as well as their diffusion over time, and assess their influence on the development of selected societies in Africa.
6.01 Describe different levels of economic development and assess their connections to standard of living indicators such as purchasing power, literacy rate, and life expectancy.
Students could study the traditions and culture of the Maasai people and determine the effects of limited education that is described in the books, as well as the way the tribe buys goods from the local park businesses. There are many aspects of this culture that could be studied in a classroom. Ethics are also a problem that could be discussed. On page 44, there is a passage where Namelok is cheated by the man who works at the store in the park. Another man realizes what is going on and helps her. This is where Namelok discovers the importance of learning to count money, which could have been saving her family money over the years that she has been cheated. On page 45, a passage describes Namelok’s father’s reaction to the school that has formed in the area. He laughs almost in disgust at the thought that the boys are wasting their time sitting in the dust and writing on a board when there is much work to be done. This shows that the culture does not value school, yet. Namelok tries her best to talk her father into allowing her to go to school.
I think this would be a great culture for students to study because it offers many aspects that students could discuss and study.
Book set list