The Maasai are a Nilotic ethnic group of semi-nomadic people inhabiting southern Kenya (840,000) and northern Tanzania (430,000), in the African Great Lakes region. According to their own oral history, they originated from the lower Nile valley north of Lake Turkana and began migrating south around the 15th century. As with the Bantu, the Maasai and other Nilotes in Eastern Africa have adopted many customs and practices from the Cushitic groups, including the age set system of social organization, circumcision, and vocabulary terms. They are herdsmen, and had a fearsome reputation as warriors and cattle-rustlers. The raiders used spears and shields, but were most feared for throwing clubs (orinka) which could be accurately thrown from up to 100m. In modern time they have resisted the urging of the Tanzanian and Kenyan governments to adopt a more sedentary lifestyle.
Maasai society is strongly patriarchal, with elder men deciding most major matters. A full body of oral law covers many aspects of behavior. Formal execution is unknown, and normally payment in cattle will settle matters. The Maasai are monotheistic, worshipping a single deity called Enkai or Engai, who has a dual nature: Engai Narok (Black God) is benevolent, and Engai Nanyokie (Red God) is vengeful. For Maasai living a traditional life, the end of life is virtually without ceremony, and the dead are left out for scavengers. A corpse rejected by hyenas is seen as having something wrong with it; therefore, it is not uncommon for bodies to be covered in fat and blood from a slaughtered ox. Traditional Maasai lifestyle centres around their cattle which constitute their primary source of food. The measure of a man's wealth is in terms of cattle and children.
The men are born and raised to be warriors. The central unit of the society is the age-set. Young boys are sent out with the calves and lambs as soon as they can toddle, but childhood for boys is mostly playtime. Every 15 years or so, a new generation of Morans or Il-murran (warriors), formed boys between 12 and 25, will be initiated. One rite of passage to the status of junior warrior is a painful circumcision (emorata) ceremony. This ritual is typically performed by the elders, who use a sharpened knife and makeshift cattle hide bandages for the procedure. The healing process will take 3-4 months, during which urination is painful and nearly impossible at times, and boys must remain in black clothes for a period of 4-8 months.
The junior warriors live together in a circle of huts built by their mothers, called a manyatta, until they have passed on to senior warrior status and are allowed to start families. This period generally last between 5-7 years, although 8-12 years is not uncommon. Effectively a military garrison, in the manyatta they learn the arts of survival, cattle raiding and warfare (Eng Kipaata), although nowadays this period is more symbolic than practical. In the past a moran could be expected to prove his manhood by killing a lion armed with nothing more than a spear (olamayio). Warriors who were deemed particularly brave (by killing a lion, or by proving themselves in war), had the right to wear a elaborate headdress made from a lion's mane. Others wore ostrich feathers as symbols of their courage.
The males have their heads shaved at the passage from one stage of life to another, warriors being the only who wear long hair, which they weave in thinly braided strands. Two days before boys are circumcised, their heads are shaved. The young warriors then allow their hair to grow, and spend a great deal of time styling the hair. It is dressed with animal fat and ocher, and parted across the top of the head at ear level. Hair is then plaited: parted into small sections which are divided into two and twisted, first separately then together. Cotton or wool threads may be used to lengthen hair. The plaited hair may hang loose or be gathered together and bound with leather. When warriors go through the Eunoto, and become elders, their long plaited hair is shaved off.
About the stamp
The stamp is part of a series of plants, issued on February 28, 2001:
• Pyrethrum / Chrysanthemum cinerariifolium (20 KES)
• Peanut / Arachis hypogaea (30 KES)
• Coconut / Cocos nucifera (35 KES)
• Sisal / Agave sisalana (40 KES)
• Cashew nut / Anacardium occidentale (50 KES)
• Tea / Camellia sinensis (60 KES)
• Coffee / Coffea Arabica (100 KES)
Maasai People - Wikipedia
Maasai - Age-sets - bluegecko.org
Sender: Mary Munyua
Sent from Nakuru (Kenya), on 31.07.2014
Photo: P. Kirul