The Masai People

The Masai people are part of the Nilotics and they live in southern Kenya and northern parts of Tanzania in areas of semi-arid and arid areas and are found in many numbers in Kenya. The Masai People consist of different sections referred to as Iloshon which include Ildamat, Ilpurko, Ilkeekonyokie, Iloitai, Ilkaputiei, Ilkankere, Isiria, Ilmoitanik, Iloodokilani, Iloitokitoki, Ilarusa, Ilmatatapato, Ilwuasinkishu, Kore, Parakuyu who are found in Kenya. 

The Masai People

The section of Masai found in Tanzania include the ilkisonko who are also known as isikirari. The Masai are known for their semi nomadic nature and constant movement with their livestock in search of water and better pasture.

Way of life among the Masai

The beautiful nature of the Masai culture is seen in their unique way of life, way of dressing, traditions and norms, traditional dances, cultural ceremonies such as marriage and initiations, food preparation, local arts and craft work. Wealth among the Masai is measured in cattle since the Masai are mainly cow and goat herders.

Houses of the Masai are inform of kraals arranged in a circular format with a fence around the kraal. The fences usually consist of acacia thorns which protect the livestock such as cattle from attacks by the predators such as lions.

Women among the Masai are tasked with building the houses known as “inkajijik” which are shared by an extended family due to the limited land making it a common practice among these people to share their kraals with other people in their families.

The Masai houses are built with traditional materials which include mud, sticks, grass, cow dung and urine from cows and surrounded by a fence known as “enkang”. These houses are not permanent since the Masai people are always on the move.

The women also do other chores such as collecting firewood, cooking for the family and fetching water among others. The males among the Masai engage in duties such as looking after the livestock a role which is assigned to them by an elder before they take the livestock to graze.

The men also make tribal decisions while the women are in charge of taking care of the home. Masai people also divide roles in the society according to age especially among the males which ranges from children, junior warriors, senior warriors, junior elders and senior elders.

The Masai elders and some of the males are in charge of making decisions in the society. Another practice carried out by the Masai people is tooth removal where the canine tooth is removed during childhood to avoid diarrhea and vomiting. Two teeth in the center of the lower jaw are also removed to allow feeding.  

Both male and females undergo circumcision among the Masai people. Females are not allowed to decorate themselves with decorations of adults until after initiation. The initiation among the females is through circumcision in order to change from childhood to adulthood. 

Among the Masai at around the age of eight years both boys and girls have the upper part of their ears pierced and the lower part of their ears is pierced about two years later and wooden plugs or rolled leaves are put in the holes to increase their size which is considered a sign of beauty. 

There is a communal land ownership system among the Masai and this makes it easy for them to share the available land and avoid conflict over ownership of land. The land ownership system is however ignored during the dry seasons where the livestock is grazed throughout the land.

Masai people depend on their livestock which includes cattle, goats and sheep as their source of income. The animal products such as milk are traded among the Masai people for survival which establishes close ties among them.

The cattle are branded differently by the families among the Masai for easy identification and the wealth of a man is determined by the number of children and cattle which has encouraged polygamous practices among the maasai.

According to the maasai, their god who is known as “engai” blesses them with cattle and children and this promoted cattle rustling practices among the Masai as they believed they were claiming the cattle which was rightfully theirs. Livestock is also exchanged for items such as beads, clothing and grain with the neighboring tribes.

Masai food

The Masai feed on food items such as meat, milk and blood which is got from their livestock. Blood is also consumed during special occasions such as circumcision when a woman gives birth and the elders among the Masai drink the blood to sober up when they are drunk. The blood is got from the cow by puncturing the loose flesh around the cow’s neck with a spear or an arrow. 

Farming is also practiced on a small scale by the Masai due to the limited land and the other food stuffs among the Masai include maize meal, rice, potatoes, cabbages.

Traditional dances of the Masai

The traditional dances of the Masai people include “borokoi”, “adumu” which is also known as “aigus”. The dances of the Masai involve jumping very high a form of dance which is traditionally for warriors. Songs are chanted by someone referred to as “olayarani” as this dance is performed. Movements of the head back and forth are part of the traditional dance which follows a rhythm of calling and responding music referred to as “namba”.  

Traditional dress code

The way of dressing among the Masai varies according to sex, age and place. Following the circumcision of the male, they dress up in black clothing for several months. The beads worn by the Masai define who they are. The beads worn by the Masai were initially made out of metal ornaments made by black smiths and later changed to the beads which are a sign of high degree of sophistication and symbolic communication attached to this group of people.

Favored colors among the Masai include red, black, blue, checkered patterns and stripped cloth are also worn by the maasai. Originally the Masai dressed up in sheep skin, hides and animal skin which was later replaced by the “shuka” which is wrapped around the body.

Masai women produce their own beadwork for their families, friends and sometimes also for sale. Each bead is different from the other and they cannot match in that beads for females are different from the beads for the males and from beads made by people who are not maasai.

The status of a person in society is also indicated by the nature, shape, pattern and color of the bead work which identifies the status of an individual which may include whether they are married or not among the girls and whether the male is eligible for being a warrior or elder among the Masai men. 

The children among the Masai also wear beads which are placed around their wrists, ankles and the waist soon after birth of the child. The beads worn by the children also consist of a small end of a gourd which contains different items signifying the earth, the sky and the sea.

The young men among the Masai wrap themselves in red cloths called “shukas” and have very small white earplugs in their stretched ears. The earplugs which are made from elephant tasks are a sign of warriors among the youth.

Masai people also put on beads around their necks, chest, wrist, and waist. Among the Masai, earrings are a sign of married status the same way rings are a sign of marriage in the modern communities. The earrings consist of strands of beads sewn on leather.

Another sign of marriage among the Masai are the beaded collars that have contrasting colors made from multiple strands of dark grass with a series of single oblong red beads down the center. Young unmarried girls are identified by a brightly colored wide flat dish like beaded collared necklaces with single strands of forehead beads and ornaments with small dangling earrings worn from piercings at the top and on the lobe of the ear.

Warriors among the Masai spend time assisting each other to plait their hair, adding strands of grass to make it look longer and more impressive. They also apply red ochre to their faces in decorative lines which is a crucial time for them to identify wives.

The mothers of the warriors among the Masai cut their hair at the end of their time as warriors and they wear small metal earrings that dangle from their stretched earlobes which defines their new status as elders who are able to marry. 

Marriage among the maasai

 Marriage makes relationships stronger and strengthens family ties and is considered a very important aspect among the Masai people. The Masai also practice polygamy and consider children a blessing from God. 

Marriage is considered a tie between families and not just individuals among the maasai. The parents of the Masai children sometimes choose for them suitors for both boys and girls. Another option of choosing a marriage partner can be done by the man himself who chooses his bride.

When a boy expresses interest in a girl among the maasai, he gives gifts to the girl’s family which is usually in the form of livestock. If the man is rejected, the gifts are returned to him.

The Masai People also choose marriage partners in a way that the man takes his friend’s sister as his wife and his friend, in turn, marries the man’s sister. Gifts that are exchanged among the families are part of the bridewealth which is usually cattle.

The elders play a big role during negotiations about marriage since they are in charge of the livestock. The marriage ceremony involves the bride dressing up in a long cloth and adorning many beaded necklaces. The head of the bride is shaved and many beadworks are put on her head. This is followed by the blessing of the couple and the guests are served with beer which consists of honey got from the gifts brought by the groom.

The bride cries as she is escorted by her mother and other women out of the homestead. When the bride reaches her new home, she is given gifts by the members of her new family.

The Masai People
The Masai People

Women among the Masai hold fertility festivals which involve moving from one village to another dancing and praying for children.

Divorce is not an option among the Masai and the elders sit the couples with issues and resolve them to encourage the couple to resolve their differences. In cases of mistreating the wife, the village women gather and beat up the husband and proceed to take away his best cattle and leave him with his children.  

Popular destinations where the Masai people can be seen include Serengeti National Park, Ngorongoro Crater Area, Masai Mara National Reserve, Amboseli National Park, and, Tarangire National Park which are Masai regions considered protected areas set aside for conservation, wildlife viewing, and tourism purposes. The Masai people require a lot of land to sustain their nomadic way of life which is favorable in these conservancies.

The Masai people also greatly contribute to the tourism sector since their culture attracts many tourists who wish to see them, learn about their way of life, watch the traditional dances, listen to folk stories and generally interact with the Masai.

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