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Maasai

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Initiation Ceremonies

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The Maasai have a system of life in which they separate themselves into age groups, each of them being given a set of responsibilities.  The women and girls are responsible for all the household tasks, including the gathering and collection of food, water, and firewood.  The boys in the society have to herd the livestock until they are in their early teens, after this they are circumcised and become warriors.  Later on when they have served the military for at least seven years, they are permitted to retire and get married.  The elders usually offer advice, settle disputes, and watch over the needs of the herds.  This transition from one age group to another is marked by ceremonies and rituals which we can call initiations. (2)

These ceremonies occur once every seven years and are at the heart of the Maasai culture.  Crowds that attend these are so big that sometimes they even have to build entire villages to be able to accommodate everyone.  The ceremonies go on for days and unite the tribes by different rituals such as: “drinking their livestock’s blood, spraying honey beer on one another in blessings, slaughtering bulls in the forest, and marching together in solemn processions.” (2)

One of their ceremonies is called “The Horn of the Ox” which consists of about 150 boys that would compete to chase an ox, each of them attempting to grab it by the horns.  When this was over, the boys would go home and be circumcised, entering the first stage of adulthood. (2)

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Circumcision, called by them “Emorata” is a mental as well as a physical process.  They believe that the youth who survives the pain of such an operation without crying or complaining will emerge as a man or woman able to endure the challenges of life. (5) At circumcision the Maasai, who are known for their red patterned cloths, wear cloth dark blue.  This color change is done because at circumcision males mark their transition from boys to warriors, and females from girls to being eligible for marriage; both of these transitions are understood as a time of “danger”. (3)

We can say that the ideal of becoming a man after circumcision is the dream of every Maasai boy, although it isn’t the same case for the girls.  By this the girls would lose their freedom and go directly into marriage.  They wouldn’t be able to enjoy anymore the company of warriors or choose their lovers freely.  For both the boys and girls the process of circumcision is completely different. (5)

Girls are circumcised as soon as they reach puberty and it is done individually when her parents decide to do it.  Unlike girls, the boys have a generation grouping so their process is done altogether.  For the boys the circumcision must be announced at least two months ahead of time.  They must collect several things such as ostrich feathers, honey, wax, and a special bull must be found for the day of the ceremony.  After circumcision the feathers would be used to start creating the boy’s headdress.  The wax is to apply to the tips of his new arrows, which he will carry everywhere.  They even shave the boys head and give away all his belongings since they think that he shouldn’t have any of his belongings of his youth when he becomes a man. (5)

During the days before the circumcision the boys that have had it already, sing different songs of encouragement to the expectant.  The songs have very crude words, but they are meant to insult the boy and anger him so much that he will be able to stand better the pain inflicted.  Just before the circumcision they boy is stripped naked and a close relative washes him from the head down with cold water.  This water is kept outside the night before, with an ax head inside to make it colder.  This washing symbolizes the boy’s entrance to a new life as it cleans away all the wrong things of his past life as a youth; and it also numbs him a little bit for the operation.  After they heal completely, they become young warriors.  They let their hair grow and everything they wear must be new in order to symbolize a new life.  After this, they remove their headdresses and old clothing, and replace them with the warrior’s hairstyle and red togas. (5)

Another very significant initiation ceremony is “Enginasataa Oongiri” also said to be the communal meat-eating.  This is the last ceremony undergone by warriors in which they transition from juniors to elders.  In this, the man is able to eat meat for the first time since he became a warrior.  It takes place in one day, and is supervised by elders.  There is a lot of beer and honey, and as in most Maasai ceremonies a lot of singing and dancing.  After this the new elders then disperse themselves to their respective homes to face the responsibilities and growing of elderhood.

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