This week Moilomet Olorwas and Evelen Ngaa were married at my outstation of Ngoile. Since it was within an hour’s walk of the main mission at Olbalbal, most of the Christians came. The feast was frosted with some beautiful songs composed by the Christians. The singers took words from the bible about the creation of the first man and woman and various admonitions from St. Paul about how wives and husbands need to respect each other. The songs were great and high points of the celebration.
At Maasai weddings replacing rings, the bride places the “engonongoi” necklace of blue beads around the neck of the bridegroom. In fact, the man of the house only begins to wear this necklace on the day of initiation of his first-born. So it doesn’t technically fit, but the Christians determined to use this symbol signing hope for a successful marriage and family. The bridegroom then places the “eomonyorit” chain around the neck of the bride. At this wedding the couple also exchanged rings. In Europe and America, the bride’s chain would be a terrible symbol to use at a wedding. But among the Maasai, it is the traditional sign of a married woman. Unfortunately all to often, the chain analogy is born out in the daily living of the married couple. We hope that the relationship of Moilomet and Evelen will be more enlightened than the chain symbol indicates. Another unique symbol at our Maasai wedding was the smearing of the joined hands of the bride and groom with blessed sheep fat. Sheep fat is much used in the preparation of the special clothing of the bride at traditional weddings and was a meaningful addition to the Christian service, a very graphic blessing of their union.
An ox was slaughtered and there was meat and soda for everyone, coca cola of course. America has coca-cola-ized the world!
A few days ago OlenKotomindia was chosen as the “Oleguanani”, the Spokesman and Leader of the Molelian clan. The Maasai people are divided into many different clans. Clan members live throughout Maasai country and form a kind of extended family. Among the Maasai a man may not marry a girl of his own clan. The court of final appeal for such things as inheritance is the clan so the clan leader is a very important position and has a lot of prestige connected to it.
The feast of investiture for the new clan leader was a very big deal. Clan members from far and wide contributed cattle and goats to be slaughtered for the feast. Lesser Molelian clan leaders from all over Tanzania and Kenya gather for the investiture of their new leader. Molelian men and beautifully dressed women, many dressing elaborate skin cloaks participated bringing intricately beaded gourds of fresh and curdled milk. Two huge oxen and 18 goats were slaughtered and honey beer brewed.
The first order of the day was a solemn blessing of OlenKotomindia by the clan leaders with much prayer and aspersions of milk and honey beer. He was then given a ceremonial “Olrinka”, a ceremonial stick of authority. The clan presented him with a heifer signing the blessings they wished for him. He was clothed with a beautiful new blanket and finally presented with a five gallon container of honey.
The next day the new clan spokesman sat with other Molelian elders drinking beer and receiving their advice. Finally, after some weeks he will undertake a journey to visit his Molelian constituents through Maasai country.
With the coming of the rains, the Olbalbal depression is fast filling with rain water. It is a small lake in the desert where the Maasai herds will drink for months to come. A meaning of the Maasai word “Olbalbal” is “a temporary lake”. In drought years the “Olbalbal” does not fill and people must move into the hill country to find water for their herds of cattle and goats. In those times, Olbalbal area becomes pretty much deserted, except for a few shop keepers and others who for one reason or another cannot move.
The seasons and the ever changing condition of the land dictate much in Maasai life. They are a pastoral people, so the two powerful lynchpins of their survival, water and grass, dictate most of the important decisions of their everyday living. Often the complaint is heard: “Why don’t the Maasai settle down? If they would only forgo their love of the semi-nomadic life style, they could have good schools and medical care and other important services.” It is frequently overlooked that the Maasai don’t love moving, with its´ disruptions. They move because of the need to find good grass and water for their herds. The fact of their being a pastoral people dictates that they live in harmony with their environment and to wrestle out of this harsh land the means of survival. That said, I am hoping that the day is far off when everyone moves away and I’m all by myself.
OloCuru went off early this morning with his sister, nephew and niece. His father died some three weeks ago and now the family is gathering from all over to “drink water”, the final death rights performed for a Maasai. OloCuru and his small band of family are traveling ten hours by foot North to Oldoinyo’gol to the boma of his dead father. A black sheep without blemish will be slaughtered and shared by the family. They will drink a bitter soup made from the meat and fat of the sheep and with harsh herbs. Then, the various bits and pieces the dead elder wore, wire bracelets and beaded ornaments will be shared out among the family, each person receiving something touched by the old man. Finally, all members of the family, male and female from the oldest to the smallest infant will have their head shaved. The ceremonies completed, the family will disperse and all will return to wherever they came from. OloCuru will return with the children here to Olbalbal where the two young girls and a boy are attending the local primary school.
Easter Sunday was a party to remember at Olbalbal. Four big goats and a sheep were slaughtered, a hundred pound bag of rice cooked, fifty pounds of potatoes prepared and a big container of cooking oil used. The hundreds of people ate till not a grain of rice was left. There was an enthusiastic church service lasting three hours. I was especially pleased that only a couple people out of over a hundred baptized took non-Maasai names. These days, in many places, even Maasai, are choosing to be baptized with traditional European saints names. Maasai names are very special. They are carefully chosen and ceremonially blessed by their parents and boma elders with milk and honey beer shortly after birth.
Holy Week here at Olbalbal has taken us by storm, quite literally. On Monday the rains began, pouring down for twenty four hours without a break. Since Monday it has rained for a number of hours each afternoon. This sudden and very welcome change of seasons has been received with enthusiasm by the pastoral Maasai. People had begun to move in large numbers for lack of life giving grass and the entire area of Olbalbal with its’ wide plains had turned to dust. In some areas, very hard hit by the drought, weaker cattle had begun to die. The Maasai have no store houses of grain to tide them over bad times. The only thing they have to fall back on is their cattle, and the dry months had taken a heavy toll on the health of their animals. Most of the cattle had become very thin.
Yesterday afternoon I met an old man who had trekked two day across the plains from the North near the border of Kenya and Tanzania. Sharing a pot of tea, he described his very difficult journey across the plains with only a small gourd of milk to sustain him. The elder, OleKaruna, was on a sad journey, bringing very bad news to relatives at Olbalbal. Three days before his two small grandsons were pasturing their flock of goats on the plain and were caught out in the open when the deluge of rain hit. They sheltered, with their small herd of goats, under the one small tree out there on the savanna. Lightning struck, splitting the tree, killing both boys and five of the goats.
Oldupai Gorge, a few hours walk across the plains, is the place where the Leakey family has found many fossils of early man. There is a small building there housing some reproductions of their most significant discoveries and even many of their original finds. All these artifacts were found in a deep gorge running for some miles out onto the plains. This gorge, usually bone dry, no pun intended, was the place of another sad event last Monday. Many Maasai village populate the area to take advantage of the permanent water well at Oldupai. The rains came filling the gorge from wall to wall and three unlucky children, three small girls, were carried away as they dug in the sandy river bottom for water.