The Maa, In the Wild.
On a chilly morning on the slopes of Ngong’ hills, a little distance from Ngong town that happens to be a few 23 km away from Nairobi, the capital of Kenya. The scenery is sumptuous. A few young men robed in Maasai shukas (traditional attire) are working to light up some fire and they do not use matchsticks but rather rub two sticks till it lights up. It’s their way of life. One of the indigenous communities to grace these lands. They have for long held steadfast to their culture never fluttering, never stuttering. You should see how large their cattle heads are.
On this very day, they will mark the onset of a traditional rite of passage. It is highly revered and full of pomp. And soon wafts of roast meet will be the aroma around. This is one big day and it doesn’t end at dusk but rather it’s a process, the initiation of young men to warriors. What a day to be alive. As I exit the manyatta (traditional hut) where I had spent the night. I found my host and a couple of friends taking sips of steaming soup.
Not coffee. The soup comes in handy on such chilly morning but from afar you can see the rising sun rays glowing their radiance through the cloud and soon it would be all warm and merry. On this very beautiful day my host’s younger brother was to be circumcised alongside a horde of young boys.
When a Maa or a Maasai is born, he is given two names.one is that which resembles his father’s and the other is that of one of his father’s respected friends. The second name may change due to changing times but that of his father remains as it is the family name. He is called these names until he reaches the age of circumcision, such as today. After which he is referred to as a “moran”. Or to the name of a lion he killed or protected. Morans nowadays don’t kill these wild cats. They protect them by managing safe extraction of the cats back to the wild to preserve the wild heritage.
To become a moran, one has to undergo several cultural rites which begin with the Enkipaata (pre-circumcision ceremony) whereby a young boy and his age mates elope on the plain announcing the onset of a new age set. This is the senior boyhood and in about 5 years he will be ready for circumcision. Which is the agenda of the day. Before today, the morans-to-be had been living in one kraal also known as emanyatta previously elected by the traditional prophet also known as the Oloiboni. Before the actual event takes place, a leader of the age set has to be chosen and he is called the Olopolosi Olkiteng. He has the responsibility of watching over the others and shouldering their errs.
The Emuratta ceremony.
This is the most important life stage of the moran as it transitions him from boy hood to adult hood. Not even killing a lion gives him this thrill. And if you watch closely the entourage in in a stance like movement. But to get here, the young moran has to prove himself worth the rite by going out in the wilderness for 7 days wielding a large spear and watching over large heads of cattle. Together with other age mates. Whoever makes through the challenge is given the honours for the rite of passage. On the eve of circumcision the morans-to-be have to take a cold shower as a sign for cleansing and stay out in the cold to harden them. Elders are constantly warning them sternly on the dangers of dishonoring the rites. The boys are by their relatives and by the thoughts of the rewards that await them such as cattle heads. After the emuratta ceremony, the initiates reside in selected kraals or emanyatta being tended to by elder wives. Wife sharing is common among the Maasai.
Circumcision is not the end. The journey of a moran is only getting started.10 years after the emuratta ceremony, the moran will undergo another rite known as the Eunoto that will move him to be a senior moran. To prove that he is a senior he has to grab a burning horn from a furnace. Whoever is able to hold onto it is given the role of the leader of the junior warriors also known as the Oloboru Enkeene. His deputies are Olotuno and Olaiguanani Lenkashe. Their role is to watch over their peers. During the Eunoto ceremony, the morans have their hair dyed red with ochre and when the event concludes, their mothers shave their heads clean. This marks a new era.
Next is the Enkang e-kule or the milk ceremony where the moran is prohibited from eating meat or drinking milk in front of women. This is then followed with a break of fast ceremony or the Orngesherr ceremony that then allows the moran to eat and drink in front of women. After conclusion of these ceremonies. The senior elders is given a symbolic chair to welcome him into elder-ship.
He can start his own family now awaiting his next rite of passage which id the Emanyatta Olorikan or the senior elder and he can now marry more wives.
Recently the UNESCO declared three of the mentioned passage rites which are, Enkipata, Eunoto and Olng’esherr to be intangible cultural heritage that should be protected by all means.