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Maasai

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Culture

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The Maasai of Africa are pastoral people who live mostly in Kenya and Tanzania, in the Great Rift Valley of East Africa.  The Maasai’s life is dependent on livestock.  This society believes that at the start of creation, God assigned them ownership of all the cattle in the world. (2)  Still they even go on cattle raids to reclaim herds from other tribes, which they believe must have been taken from them years ago.  This strong bond the Maasai have with their animals has led them to a semi nomadic way of life, following the various seasons in search of water and food for their herds. (5)

            In present there are approximately 300,000 to 400,000 Maasai.  It is difficult to say precisely because they dislike being counted, and either hide themselves or misstate the number of people in their family. (5)  Although their population is increasing, it is doing so in a very slow rate.  This is because they are trying to retain their cultural traditions in this fast pace modern world.

Their herds are composed of cows, bulls, and oxen.  There are usually less bulls than cows or oxen, and their sizes and ages are different in order to prevent fighting amongst them.  The males are castrated into oxen in order to be used for meat or sold, either for money or in exchange.  The families treat their cattle same as their children, they sing for them and each of them are known and loved.

The Maasai diet consists mainly of milk, which their cattle supply, and the people consume it fresh or in a sour yogurt form.  They usually never kill an animal for its meat, except on special occasions, for example when a woman is giving birth, when a person is sick, or when a major ceremony takes place.  Milk and meat, are never eaten together because they believe that it could lead them to sickness.  Also, they “feel that it is a betrayal of the animal to feed on it alive, by drinking its milk, and also to feed on it dead, by eating its meat.” (5) So a Maasai must decide which of the two things they will do to eat.

One of the things that characterize the Maasai people the most are the colorful and extravagant beads through their bodies.  Diverse studies show that beads are an essential part of the material culture that defines who they are.  The various colors and patterns can declare an ethnic affiliation as well as the different age groups.  “For the Maasai the wearing of personal adornment immediately identifies an individual’s social status – girl, eligible for marriage, or married, for females, and boy, warrior, or elder for males.” (3)

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There is a legend about the creation of the Maasai people that says:                 

“An old man near the end of his life, had three sons to whom he gave three gifts.  To the first son he gave an arrow.  With the arrow this son soon learned to hunt and became an Okiek.  To the second he gave a hoe.  This founder of the Kikuyu learned to farm the land and grow crops.  The third son, who received as his gift a stick, used it to herd cattle and founded the Maasai.” (3)

This old man’s name was Engai and is said to be their God, who is the master of creation.  The pray to him daily, usually asking for rain and prosperity.  However, for guidance in personal things like spirituality, health issues, business, or love, they consult the laibons, who are vision seekers, prophets, and healers of the tribe. (2)

The topic of death in their society is one never mentioned.  “For the Maasai death is a taboo, an impolite topic and useless to discuss”. (2) They believe that when someone dies they should be gone forever.  There is no belief in afterlife or on any ancestral spirits. (4)