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The Custom of “embuata”

Many visitors to Maasai country remark of the fact that Maasai do not have the lower two front teeth. A Maasai elder recently talked with me about this fact. It is called “embuata which means the extracting of the two middle incisors of the lower jaw. A knife is used with which to perform the operation.

The Maasai extract their children’s two middle teeth twice. They take them out first when all its teeth are showing. Then they wait. After the child has lost all its milk teeth and obtained the permanent set at about twelve years old, the teeth are extracted a second time, and never grow again. I am told that when a child has had its teeth extracted, donkey’s dung is put on its face in order to cool it.

The elder that I was talking with told me that the origin of this custom of extracting the two lower front teeth is supposed to date back to a time when tetanus was a great problem among the Maasai. They discovered that it was a comparatively simple matter to feed a person suffering from lockjaw if two of his front teeth were missing.

When the Maasai see a man who has not had the two middle incisors extracted, they laugh and say: “Eng’arie ‘sirkon endaa.” He eats his food like a donkey.”

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