Category Archives: Blog

Population Explosion

I extend a warm welcome to the two most recent additions to our Olbalbal community. If we had a welcome wagon, I’d send it to their “wallow.”

This morning, early risers at Olbalbal village were surprised to see two huge lumbering hippos passing by. They were witnessing, what I am told, is the annual migration of a hippo family from a dam deep in the hills above Olobalbal to the now substantial lake here at Olbalbal. In drought years our lake does not fill, but this year, because of good rains, the lake is full.

I am always amazed and how these huge animals know at great distances that dams are filling up. Near Endulen at Osinoni, there is a football field size dam in a very remote dry area that only fills every few years. Shortly after filling with water, this dam becomes the home of a hippo family. I could never figure out how they knew that the dam had filled. Where did they come from? There is no other body of water for many miles around Endulen.

If I can get a picture of our new residents here at Olbalbal, I’ll post it.

Holy Cow!

I came across this on a WordPress blog by testigoafrica. I don’t know whether it is fact or fiction, but it’s a good story…

 

“La Chica has to share a story that she heard from el chico. El chico is a Maasai from Ngorongoro, a beautiful part of Tanzania famous for its enormous volcanic crater full of an abundance of wildlife. El chico’s dad is a full on Maasai (4 wives, 28 children) and his story is this:

There was a group of 20 morani, who are Maasai men aged between 18 and 35 whose responsibilities are to be courageous, strong and protective of their families and livestock, historically they were also required to fight other tribes to the death when their valuable cattle or goats were at risk. These morani decided to kill a lion, as in the Maasai tradition they would achieve true manhood and warrior status only when they had killed a lion with their spears and lived to tell the tale, with evidence comprising tails, toenails, hide, mane etc. Located on the border of Serengeti and Ngoronogoro (areas protected by National Park status) the Morani had a great choice of live lions to kill (illegally, unless in self defence or protecting their livestock). Imagine their delight to discover a lone lion. With typical Maasai stealth they surrounded the lion and before it could attack or escape they simultaneously released their spears, succeeding in a kill. Little did they know that the lion they had chosen to hunt was the subject of a research project by a European scientist who was tracking the lion through its daily activities. During the hunt, the scientist was hidden nearby, observing the lion, and on seeing such a large crowd of morani, stayed hidden! He had a video camera for his work, which he continued to use, and so captured the kill. He then left the area to report the incident to the authorities, and handed in his video footage as evidence.

Meanwhile, the morani excitedly began to divvy up the lion, cutting it into 20 parts for each morani to show off to their communities to earn their warriorhood status and eternal respect. One morani’s prize piece of the lion was something odd that none of them had ever seen before – it looked something like a necklace as it was hanging around the lion’s neck – how the heck could a wild animal acquire a piece of jewellery?! This ‘lucky’ morani took his part of the kill back to his boma (home) and casually hung it around the neck of one of his cows. (No doubt it was a fascinating talking point and a unique find!).

Soon the European scientist returned to the killing site with the authorities, to find only traces of blood and nothing else of the lion. But this didn’t deter him or the rangers, as they had video footage. But….they also had something else. The scientist has put a tracking device around the neck of the lion, and so they followed the signal to eventually arrive at the lucky morani’s boma where his chosen cow proudly wore the necklace. Ooops….guilty! The lucky morani became the unlucky morani, and he was arrested. In custody he was encouraged to give the names of the other morani, but he insisted that he was the only one who killed the lion, and it was because the lion had attacked his goat. (A story his morani mates told him to tell, so they didn’t get any blame).

Seeing an opportunity to exploit the situation with evidence of the involvement of 20 morani in the killing, the authorities said they would kill the case if the community paid 5,000TZS ($3.30) per morani living in the entire district. As la chica writes this blog, the hat is being passed around, and she suspects that very an official will have enough money to build a nice new house.

The moral of the story? If you kill a lion, for heavens sake don’t take the tracking device with you!”

 

Clash of the Warriors

A cool breeze is making for a pleasant evening sitting on the front porch of the mission house. The sun set hours ago and many warriors-to-be are gathered in a nearby open meadow lustily singing the defiant songs of their new age group. The “Sod Busters”, as they are disparagingly called by the Ilkirianga, the retiring age group, are singing of their new role as guardians of the herds and protectors of the Maasai people. Now I hear a band of Ilkirianga warriors approaching, singing their own age group chants. The older boys are bent on dispersing and beating the “Sod busters”, which they do as I sit and listen to the uproar. The gathering of the young boys of the new age group quickly disperses and the melts into the night. They are understandable not ready to take on the much older and stronger young men of the Ilkirianga. The whole exercise seems like so much wasted effort, since the young ones have already won the day.  More and more of their initiation celebrations are taking place each week. As warriors, the Ilkirianga are history.

A Walk Through the Market

I’m the new guy in town and a walking through the twice monthly Maasai market here at Olbalbal is getting me a lot of attention, not least because I have the only white face in sight.

Those Goats and sheep are changing hands so quietly and with so little haggling that I begin to wonder if any buying and selling is really going on. Noonkuta, a Maasai lady standing nearby, assures me that it is.

This lady is buying beads to make a beaded belt for her daughter. These sandals made out of old car tires are the best for walking in the bush especially when it is muddy. That young man riding the motorbike is clearly driving without the benefit of lessons. I carefully keep out of his way. Here is an old man, OleLesinka, a friend from Endulen, wanting to go aside to “eat the news.”

I don’t need beads, tire sandals or a new “shuka”, the cloth that the Maasai wear toga style, but spend an hour just wandering around saying hello and chatting with people.

Mother’s Day Naming

An old man, OleKoitaat tells me that there is a feast among the Maasai called the “Ox of the Infant.” When a child is born and it is time to give it a name, an unblemished black ox without any blemish or white or brown spot is slaughtered. The men are given a share and then the women cook the meat. When the meat is ready, a woman calls out, “The honey is ready.” Then the mother of the child is given milk and the women eat the meat together. After they have eaten, the women go home to their own villages.

In the evening, the mother carries her child to the cattle enclosure and milks her cows with the child on her back. When she finished, three old men and the child’s father join her and the child is named. There is plenty of honey beer to help the group decide on a good name. Names are usually chosen among those of relatives or friends that have been successful pastoralists.

The “Ox of the Infant” is slaughtered at the door of the mother’s house and the skull, instead of being thrown away, is placed by the door. The tail is not separated from the hide as is usually the case. It is left on until the hide is worn out. This explanation is a combination of what an old man told me together with what I’ve gleaned from my reading, especially Hollis.

Olbalbal beats Endulen for Water

For the past twenty six years at Endulen, I’ve had to take the car and trailer every other day to fill plastic water containers at Endulen spring. Here at Olbalbal water is available in the front yard.

High above the village, on Ngorongoro Mountain lies the spring that provides good drinking water to the Maasai of Olbalbal. After five months here, it is evident that the spring doesn’t dry up. It provides the Maasai with enough water for drinking, cooking and washing, but not enough for the Maasai herds. The cattle sheep and goat drink at the depression forming a small lake, from which the area gets its name, Olbalbal.

The spring water flows by pipe filling a cement holding tank not far above the village. From there more pipes take the water to three water points, two in the village and one here at the mission. It is great to have a dependable water source at the front door.

A Grandmother’s Ordeal

It is evening here and Naomom just stopped by on her way home from visiting her grandmother on the mountain above us here at Olbalbal. The old lady is blind and mostly deaf. She can no longer move around and stays inside the house most of the time. Tired from her daylong trek up the mountain and drinking a cup of tea on my front porch, she reminisced about her days as a little girl living with her “koko”.

 

Naomom had a horrendous story to tell. One day years ago and only four years old, she was playing near the cooking fire in her grandmother’s house. The old lady was resting on the skin-covered bed just a few feet away. She was lying with her head outward toward the hearth to better keep track of Nomom. The Maasai normally sleep with their feet toward the cooking fire. All the people of the small Maasai village had gone off, the men to herd the cattle or visit friends and the women to gather firewood or draw water. Suddenly there was a hyena in the house grabbing the old lady by the scalp pulling her off the bed. That wasn’t working so the animal tried to grab her by the arm and shoulders. All this time the old lady was screaming and finally was able to grab a stick with her good arm and land a good blow on the nose of the hyena. He ran off leaving Naomom’s grandmother badly mauled and Naomom shaking and in a state of shock. The old woman carries horrendous scars as a reminder of that awful day.

Warriors Retire Reluctantly

A reluctantly retiring warrior age group met this afternoon just below the mission. After agreeing to clean the silt-clogged spring in the hills above Olbalbal, they discussed the steps they will soon take to becoming young elders. In three weeks each warrior will drink milk alone, individually and apart from other warriors. A Maasai warrior never drinks milk alone; he always shares the milk gourd with at least one other warrior. Then in September the Ilkurianga age group will take another major step to elder hood; they will eat meat publicly. Maasai warriors only eat meat among themselves and away from the “destructive eyes” of women. These rites will signal, much to their annoyance, that a new age group is replacing them as warriors. The age group they derisively named “Etur engop”, “sod busters” is now open. The “Sod busters” have already begun to be circumcised, and, in fact, there will be a circumcision celebration tomorrow at the nearby village of Olenditai. These events make the Ilkirianga very unhappy campers, and in fact, after planning to un-silt the spring and talking about their coming demise as ruling warriors with the individual drinking of milk later this month and the public eating of meat in September, there was a third order of business. They enthusiastically decided to give those upstarts, those sod busting sorry excuses for warriors as much of a hard time as possible as they go about usurping “our God given place” as warriors. All this rhetoric will not prevent them from attending the circumcision feast of a “sod breaker” tomorrow, dancing with the girls, and keeping a sharp eye out for any young prospective “Etur Engop”, daring to show his face at the feast of an age mate. In the unlikely event of one showing up, he’ll be beaten and chased away by the lame duck Ilkorianga.

Prayerful Women of Olbalbal

The Maasai pray at milking time. There is a song of the women that is heard often. It is a prayer in the morning and in the evening begging God to give them children and cattle. I would like to share it with you. The morning star is not prayed to, but Enkai, the multicolored one, the one of many and varied qualities.

To (EnkAi), the one of my morning star

We pray when you appear

When the moon is in your navel

Then we just pray to you

We pray to you the multicolored one

(Give) young mothers children

Of our cattle camp and that of the neighbor

The star that has come early

Which sat there in the early morning

And we women pray

To you my God who is prayed to

We pray for others

Young ones and old ones

Of cows and children

That they should have children who take loneliness far

In joy and oil

And I pray when the morning star goes down

And I pray when it has come up