January 2003

Endulen Diary
Vol. 18, #2
January, 2003

A.C. Hollis wrote in 1905 of the Maasai Medicine-man and his role in Maasai life.

Medicine-men have four methods of divining future events. The first is by means of a buffalo or ox horn. A handful of stones are thrown from the horn and they know what is going to happen by the number of which fall out when the horn is shaken.

The second is by examining the entrails of a goat which they slaughter. From what they see there they are able to predict that certain things will come to pass, such as epidemics, etc.

The third method is when they drink honey-wine and get drunk. They then are able to prophesy what will take place.

The fourth method is by dreams. They tell people what they saw in their dreams, and it is believed to be a prophecy. Should the dream not come true after the interval of several years, people cannot say it is not correct: They must wait until the medicine-man tells them that the event is about to happen.

If the medicine-man is going to prophesy by means of the buffalo or ox horn, and there are people on the road, he tells those present that he will wait, as their feet will spoil his prophecy. They always know when people are coming, even if they are afar off.

When the medicine-man makes medicine, he gets drunk before he prophesies. He sings in parables, and the people reply.

For instance, when the medicine-man named “The Father of Ngupe made medicine for the warriors of Kilepo before they went on a raiding expedition, he sang:

“The bulls that cannot move because they are so fat,
They will be beaten by Kilepo.
The bulls that cannot move because they are so fat,
Half of them have been captured.”

The warriors of Kilepo went on their projected raid against the people of Kahe, and captured half of their cattle.

They said: “Thus prophesied the medicine-man.”

All the medicine-man belongs to the Kidongi family of the Laiser clan, and they are the descendants of Ol-Oimooja or of E-Sigiriaishi, the sons of Ol-le-Mweiya.

Of all the medicine-men Lenana is the greatest. All Maasai acknowledge him as their Lord and pay tribute to him.

It is said that Lenana is the son of Mbatian, who was the son of Supeet, who was the son of Sitonik, who was the son of Kipepete, who was the son of P:arinyombe, who was the son of Kidongoi, who was the son of E-Sigiriashi, the son of Ol-le-Mweiya.

The story of the origin of the medicine-men is said to be as follows: Ol-le-Mweiya came down from heaven and was found by the Laiser clan sitting on the top of their mountain. He was such a small person that he was first of all believed to be a child. He was taken by the Laiser clan to their kraal, where it was discovered that he was a medicine-man. He married and had issue.

When he was dying he said to his children: “Do not move from this spot.” On account of this the Laiser clan do not go far from their mountain.

Now, of all the medicine-man who lived in olden days Mbatian was the greatest.

It is said that formerly, before Europeans ever came to these countries, he prophesied that white people would come.

Again before he died he told the people to move their grazing grounds, “for” he said,” all the cattle will die. You will first of all see flies which make hives like bees, then the wild beasts will die, and afterwards the cattle.”

Both of these prophesies have come true: the Europeans have arrived, and the cattle died.

Mbatian himself died while the rinderpest cattle plague was raging about 1890.

When on the point of death, he called the elders of Matapato, the sub-district in which he lived, and said to them: “Do not move from your country for I am about to die, and I will send you cattle from heaven. If you move, you will die of smallpox, your cattle will parish, you will have to fight with a powerful enemy, and you will be beaten. I wish my successor to be the medicine-man’s insignia. Obey him.” The elders replied: “Very well” and left.

When they had gone, Mbatian called his eldest son Sendeyo, and said to him: “Come tomorrow morning for I wish to give you the medicine-man’s insignia.”

Sendeyo replied: “Very well.” And went to lie down.

While this was taking place, Lenana, who had hidden himself in the calf-shed, overheard the conversation. He arose early in the morning and went to his father’s hut. One his arrival he said: “Father I have come.”

Now Mbatian was very aged and he had only one eye. He therefore did not see which of his sons was before him and gave to Lenana the insignia of the medicine-man (the iron club and the medicine horn, the gourd, the stones, and the bag, at the same time saying: “Thou shalt be great amongst thy brothers and amongst all the people.”

Lenana took the medicine-man’s insignia and went away.

Sendeyo then went to his father, but was told that his brother had already been there and been given the medicine-man’s insignia. When he heard this, he was very angry and said: “I will not be subject to my brother; I will fight with him till I kill him.”

Mbatian died and was buried near Oldonyo Orok.

When he was dead, some of the people proclaimed Lenana principal medicine-man, “for,” they said, “Mbatian told us that he would give the insignia of his office to which ever of his sons he wished should succeed him.” They therefore remained with Lenana.

But others said: “We will not acknowledge this man for he is a cheat,” and they threw in their lot wit Sendeyo.

Now disease broke out amongst Sedeyo’s people, many of whom died, their cattle all perished, and they were defeated by the Germans; whilst those people who remained with Lenana did not fall ill, and they obtained cattle, as Mbatian had predicted.

The two rivals waged war for many years, and eventually Sendeyo was beaten. He came in 1902 to beg his brother to allow him to live with him, and peace was concluded between the two parties.

Before Lenana dies he will select whichever of his sons is acquainted with the work of the medicine-men to succeed him.

The principal badge of the medicine-man’s office is the iron club. If the medicine-man sends a messenger to tell his people anything, he also sends his club so that it may be known that the message comes from him.

The principal badge of the medicine-man’s office is the iron club. If the medicine-man sends a messenger to tell his people anything, he also sends his club so that it may be known that the message comes from him.

Should a medicine-man strike anybody with the iron club, that person sickens and dies. It is said that Mbatian often struck people with his club, and waited till they were about to die, when he gave them medicine and cured them. Lenana, however, is a gentle man and does not kill people in this manner. … .

I’ll be out of touch of about four months. I’m off to get me second him replacement.


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