Maasai history and culture

Updated: Mar 13

The Maasai community traces their origin to South Sudan, they are a Nilotic group. They migrated to their present homeland between southern Kenya and northern Tanzanian in the late 17th century and early 18th century. They were able to displace some of the tribes which had earlier on occupied the region while others adopted the Maasai culture.


The main activity of the Maasai community was pastoralism and also, they used to depend on hunting and gathering. By the 19th century, the Maasai community had expanded its territory and covered most parts of present-day Kenya and Tanzania.


Maasai people suffered darkest years at around 1883 and 1902 and it is estimated that almost 60% of the Maasai people lost their lives during the period as a result of calamities that they experienced. Their cattle were attacked by a disease known as rinderpest and most of them died, this caused starvation, also, the masa people were attacked by smallpox and drought during the same period.


The culture is patriarchal, and the council of elders oversees the daily activities including settling of cases and this is why it would be hard to see the Maasai people in any court. The fine imposed on one that has wronged is in form of cattle.


Cattle is the central lifestyle of the Maasai community. The most interesting thing about the Maasai is that they consume raw meat, raw milk, and raw blood, something that would be considered abnormal for a human being of nowadays to do, to them they consider it good fun and they enjoy. Wealth is always determined by the number of cattle and children has. However, one would be considered poor if he has many children and few cattle.


The warrior caste in the Maasai community is of value among them and is renowned worldwide. These brave men are afforded many privileges, included are; keeping their air long and being able to marry. The warrior caste has the name il-murran in the Maa language. The new group of soldiers is initiated every 15years among young men aged 12yrs to 25yrs, they are then trained and initiated through circumcision which is carried out by use of traditional instruments. Young warriors withstanding pain is considered one of the transitions to manhood.


Maasai warriors


Polygamy has been practiced since among the Maasai; this is because they consider children as wealth so as a way to having many children, they practice polygamy. When a woman marries, she doesn't only marry her husband but also the entire age group of the husband. Wife inheritance also still exists among the Maasai. Traditionally, a man was expected to give up his bed to a visiting male guest. However, this depended on if the woman desired to share a bed with the guest.


The Maasai people even despite being forbidden by the legislations of Kenya and Tanzania still practice female genital mutilation because they consider it as a culture to them. Although over the past years there has been a reduction of the same, songs and dances replacing the same. The main role of the Maasai women was giving birth although some have experienced the light and are educated.


The Maasai are known for traditional clothing and body modification, initially, the Maasai used to make clothes using hides and skin however nowadays they use Shuka. Maasai beadwork is very famous and is normally done by women, they used natural materials such as clay, shells, and ivory before the 19th century. With the European trade in the 19th century, they were able to acquire colorful beads in which each color have its meaning, red symbolizing warriors' bravery.


"Kenya, Maasai people"by Ninara is licensed under CC BY 2.0


Rites of passage among the Maasai such as circumcision and marriage are accompanied by the shaving of the head. Maasai warriors are the only ones exempted from shaving. The Maasai also stretch their earlobes. They considered this as a symbol of respect and wisdom. Another modification by the Maasai people is the removal of teeth. They believe that removing the canine tooth at an early age is a remedy against diarrhea and vomiting. The Maasai are also known for their jumping form of dance which is carried out by warriors by forming a semicircle and taking turns jumping at the center.


"Masai"by kevinzim is licensed under CC BY 2.0


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