Vol. 14, #8
August 15th through September 15th, 1999
Maasai Elders of the North meet to make peace and deliberate about corruption:
The Maasai leadership from all over Maasai country had a four day meeting in the North near the Kenya border. Many of our gray beards went from the Ngorongoro area including Birika, our traditional religious leader who I’ve mentioned in other News letters. They met to make peace between the three Northern sections of the Maasai, the Purko, Laitaiyok and Loita. During the past two years these different parts of the Maasai have been at low level but persistent war with each other. It has mostly taken the form of cattle rustling but more recently has escalated to hand to hand combat and their have been a few people killed. The traditional way of handling cases of murder is a payment of cows by the clan of the murderer to the clan of the fellow who was killed. This was one aspect of the peace process that the elders sorted out. The upshot of the meeting was that the Purko, Laitaiyok and Loita did make peace. Everyone is now hoping that it will hold. Three of our Maasai priests, all of Laitaiyok took part in the deliberations.
The other big question that was discussed was an accusation leveled at our member of Parliament here in the North to the effect that he had sold Maasai country to a group of Arabs. This land, now in the hands of the Arabs is no longer available for the Maasai to graze the cattle. With elections for parliament coming up next year many felt that the accusation was simply a ploy by the opposition to lose votes for OleTiman, the accused and our present member of parliament. As it turned out there was no witnesses or any kind of proof that OleTiman had sold the land to the Arabs. On the contrary it came out the meeting that the hand-over paper for the land was signed by the assistant of the former chairman of the district council while the chairman was away. The meeting of Maasai elders found Oletiman innocent.
When murder occurs in Maasai country:
The conception of the guilt of murder among the Maasai does not extend beyond the borders of Maasailand. Thus a man can only be regarded as guilty if he murders another Maasai, not if he murders a man from another tribe or race.
As soon as the murderer has been found, the relatives of the deceased will normally attempt to avenge their kinsman’s death by killing the murderer. But the relatives of the latter usually conceal and protect him until this mood has cooled off and peaceful negotiations can be held. At the meeting it is decided when the aggrieved family can go and “capture blood cattle”. The fine for murder is forty-nine cattle. The forty cattle are taken for granted and this number can be altered, but the numeral “nine” remains constant, being the number of orifices in a man’s body. In certain cases a fine of two hundred and forty nine sheep is charged, while in other cases the fine is one hundred and forty nine sheep.
The above-stated fines refer to cases where a man has been murdered, and there are no fixed fines for the murder of women. This is because the Maasai traditionally never murdered women in warfare or elsewhere. It is believed that a man will be invoking ill-luck on himself, that he will become a social disgrace, should he murder a woman. If a man kills a woman by mistake he must undergo a ceremony of expiation in which he will be cleansed and purified because it is thought that the dead will bring the disaster of a curse upon the man’s head unless this is done. The fine for the crime is forty eight or twenty eight sheep. These sheep are given to the father of the woman or her relatives. The figure “eight” in this number is related to the things normally associated with women: a loin-cloth, gut for repair-work, a needle, a calabash, a razor, an axe, a reed for cleaning calabashes and cowry-shells. This fine only applies when a Maasai woman is the victim of the killing. Otherwise the killer undergoes only the cleansing ceremony. All these fines and systems were bequeathed to the Maasai by the Founder of the tribe. When people go to collect blood property they go armed as for war. Indeed they do not go to collect it but go prepared to capture the cattle as if they were going for a raid in enemy country. If the number of cattle agreed upon has not been produced they will capture whatever cattle they can lay their hands on, belonging to the killer or his family. All these cattle have to be captured and led away in a single day. Furthermore, the captors do not accept or take any cattle which might have deformities. Before the day of the capture arrives, they have to look for an abandoned homestead to which they will drive their loot as soon as possible because they cannot be attacked once they have occupied this abandoned home and closed the gates. Otherwise they might be attacked if they are overtaken while still in the open bush. (MAASAI by OleSankan)
People in the West are often surprised and fascinated by the customs and beliefs of African peoples. The reverse is also true. A new specialization among psychotherapists in the U.S.A. is both astounding and incomprehensible to people here. It was reported this month in a BBC interview with a New York psychotherapist that increasingly dogs and cats are entering psychotherapy for separation anxiety syndrome. This condition occurs when the owners of a dog or cat get separated or divorced.
Sunday Morning in Endulen:
It is a quiet Sunday morning here in Endulen. Many of our students, who spent yesterday gathering firewood for the week, went early to the stream to wash their clothes. They will be dry by the time our Sunday service begins at mid-day. We start quite late because our congregation is mostly the Maasai people from their semi-nomadic encampments. The people come from distances up to about ten miles so we give them plenty of time to walk to the trading center here in Endulen.
Our service is tailored to Maasai ways of doing things. The language of the service and music is Maasai and most of the songs we sing have been composed by the Maasai people here in the Ngorongoro area. The vestments are black and decorated with cowry shells. Black is the color of the rain clouds that bring plenty to Maasai country and cowry shells have also have a religious significance. Gourds that hold milk, the source of life for the Maasai people are always decorated with cowry shells. Maasai religious leaders wear black and their staffs are decorated with cowry shells.
Our services open with gathering prayers by three people, myself and two Maasai elders. Following tradition, when elders bless, there must always be an odd number, never two, never four. When the bread and wine are brought to the altar table, we bless them with milk from a gourd decorated with cowry shells and closed with green grass at the mouth. Milk is used in all important blessings in Maasai country. It, together with the rain clouds and rich green grass are symbols of God’s goodness and blessing for the Maasai. I hold a tuft of green grass during the entire service, a symbol of our desire for God’s blessing on our lives and our herds. Green grass means healthy cattle and plenty of milk, the basis of the good life for the Maasai. On special days like Christmas and Easter, we also do our blessings with pure honey beer without any added sugar. This again is a tradition among the people on special days like circumcisions and when there are rites of passages ceremonies into elderhood.
During the Eucharist we bless the sick and those with special difficulties. Many Maasai forsake the help of their traditional witch doctors when becoming Christian. We try to fill this gap with a ceremony of blessing consisting of the laying on of hands, anointing with oil, and the sprinkling each sick or troubled person with milk from the special gourd, the same one used to bless the gifts of bread and wine. Elders of the community, both men and women, join with me in blessing the people who come forward.
Jackals hanging around:
When traveling to Maasai villages on my motorcycle, I frequently pass a certain place on the Endulen Ngorongoro track at the bottom of a small hill. Almost every day for the last two weeks there have been a couple of jackals hanging around that spot. They would stand off to one side and watch me pass by. That place has a small culvert (about twelve inches in diameter) to allow rain water to pass under the road and down the hill. I have been puzzling over their presence there and have asked a number of people and no one has been able to tell me why they are hanging around there every day. Yesterday, I found out. Two miniature replicas of the adult jackals came bounding out of the small culvert, no bigger than kittens to see what all the noise was all about.