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Drinking Banned Again

still2About a year ago I wrote that Olbalbal had decided to ban all alcoholic drinks. Anyone caught drinking or selling alcohol would be fined the equivalent of some hundreds of dollars. Many local Maasai men were selling the family goats and sheep to feed their addiction. Worse yet, young men of warrior age were beginning to be seen in some numbers staggering around the village totally sloshed. The people of the area met, imposed the ban and some stiff fines were imposed. For a while there was no beer or spirits being sold in local shops. The local women, who sold home brew, fermented or distilled, went out of business. For months there was not a drink to be had in Olbalbal village.

This all changed when a new village chairman was elected a couple of months ago. The old chairman had fully agreed with the ban and strongly implemented it. The new head of village affairs took no interest “prohibition.” Soon cases of beer and bottles Konyagi, Tanzanian gin, began to be seen and sold in the local shops. The women of the village returned to their very lucrative activities, sell the local “white lightening” and beer fermented from honey, sugar and corn. Again older men were seen drinking in the “pombe” shops and warrior age men began again to take advantage of the lack of enforcement. Traditionally, it was unheard of for warriors to drink. A new age of chaos was looming in the village.

Then last week, the Maasai women of the area, wives and mothers of the drinkers rose up and came together at a meeting that lasted all day. The first decision, implemented immediately, was to go to the small house of the worse offenders among the women venders of “piwa”, distilled, and “pombe”, fermented alcohol. They surrounded their houses and tore them down till nothing remained of the small houses but a pile of roof grass and sticks. Then they dragged the five worse offenders among the women to the middle of the meeting and beat them with sticks. No one was hurt; the beatings were more symbolic than serious, but it happened non-the less. I was amazed at the lengths to which the Maasai women went. They made their point, houses destroyed and public beatings…there is no more local or any other kind of brew in the village this week.

I don’t know how to comment on this astounding event. It seems something out of the 18th century. I guess the thing to be learned from all this is that when Maasai women get really serious and unified about something, DON’T GET IN THEIR WAY!!

Warriors at War

For some days now the two youngest Maasai age groups have been at war, not with a threat from the outside, but with each other. This happened periodically,warriors3 whenever the newest youngest age group begins to be strong in numbers and begin to want to take over the prerogatives of the older “ruling” warriors. The warriors are called upon when there is any kind of threat in Maasai country. One example of this is the periodic forays by the Sukuma from Western side of the Serengeti to rustle Maasai cattle. It is the “Ilkorianga”, the older age group that go to meet the challenge and fight off the invaders. It is the “Ilkorianga” also that dance with the girls at any celebration. If a member of the new age group, the “Inyangulo” dare to organize a band of warriors to ward off cattle rustlers or worse yet, to dance with the girls at a feast, he is soundly beaten and chased away. Another part of becoming “ruling warriors” is the permission for the age group to grow the long pig tail of a warrior and to carry the distinctive heavy spear with the length of black dowel holding together the two parts of the spear. All this is forbidden to the younger age group. They must slowly acquire all these prerogatives by force.

warriors1A couple of weeks ago, it was reported that a young olnyangulo threw his spear at a olkorianga slicing him in the stomach. We heard that he was taken to the hospital and, although not badly injured, he did need some stitches. This event prompted an all out war, very one sided, between the two age groups. The war mainly consisted in the Ilkorianga chasing and beating any member of the new age group brave enough to show his face in public. The young boys of the “Inyangulo” quickly got the message and most hid themselves whenever there was a “Olkorianga” in the vicinity.

The strange part of this story is that the indicial attack by a new warrior with his spear was a farce perpetrated by the older warriors. It turns out that the older fellow that was cut in the stomach had cut himself on purpose and accused the younger warriors of attacking him. This was all in view of manufacturing an excuse to start a “war” giving the older warriors and excuse to beat the younger ones.

The “Ilkorianga” don’t want to retire and give up all their warrior privileges and power. They seem intent on holding on to their status as long as they can by any means, fair or foul.