Vol. 19, #1
A Maasai priest, Lekeny (Fred) OleKorori, wrote to me in response to the December Endulen Diary. Fred is presently doing a masters degree in Germany. I remember Lekeny’s high school and college days, especially vacation times. Lekeny would typically get a ride with me or in some other car from school near Arusha to Ngorongoro. Then from Endulen, he wouled set out on the six day journey on foot to his home at Malambo. Almost half of his month vacation was spent getting home and returning, on foot.
Fr. Fred (Lekeny) writes…
Thanks for your news letter of December. Let me comment two things in the letter. Your tale of the great hunger that afflicted the Maasai in the past made me reflect for a moment my family’s past and history. May I briefly share it with you?
My grandfather Olekirinda Oledumuni was from the age group of iltareto. His father, my great-grandfather, was from the age group of iltuati. In summary these are my grandfather’s accounts of the great famine that I received from my mother.
As olekirinda was a young boy of about fourteen. (He had already pierced his ears, the lower part, called “esekerwa”). The family of oledumuni lived among the Iloitai at narok in Kenya. The great hunger set in. Two disasters followed one another. First “Olodwa” or Rinderpest killed almost all their cattle. The whole country was rotten with animals’ carcasses. Even the hyenas could not cope with great numbers of dead and dying animals. After the onset of Olodwa, it refused to rain for a long time, and the few remaining animals died. When people were without cattle, the “Ormashuku” or Smallpox descended on them like “intare naatii emwatata” (great numbers of goats and sheep in the animal enclosure). People were very weak and had nothing to eat. Many died and those remaining were eating donkeys and soaked skins of long-dead cows for their food. The Ilaikipia Maasai of kenya were their enemies too, and they helped the Kikuyu to fight against them.
One night the Ilaikipia came and raided their encampment. They killed almost all the males, including Oledumuni my great-grandfather. Others escaped the surprise attack, fleeing into the bush. They also killed all the boys in the village. My grandfather couldn’t escape into the bush but he managed to save his life by dressing in mother’s skin skirt, skin cloak and beads (Orkila and isosin), pretending to be a girl. The Ilaikipia took all the women and girls, including him, as their wives and some to sell to the kikuyus. While still on the trail, on the first day of the captivity at night, my grandfather escaped. There was a laikipia warrior who chose him for a wife but then became suspicious that he was a boy. The warrior dragged him out before the band of raiders to strip him and verify his suspicion that this was a boy posing as a girl. Just then a great black snake appeared in their path. My grandfather, taking advantage of the distraction, blended back into the crowd of prisoners. The pursuit and killing of the snake took most of the rest of the day, distracting attention from my grandfather and his gender. My grandfather knew he couldn’t be lucky twice. So he risked escape at night when all were asleep. He fled the enemy camp into the bush and wandered for many days, eating from the carcasses of animals and wild fruit. Eventually, he reached the land of Ilaitayok where, at long last, rain had fallen and there was food to be had.
The brother of OleDumuni, my great-grandfather, “mzee” (old man) OleNgobeya had long ago moved to Ilmoru (the present Serengeti National Park) before the onset of the great famine. So my grandfather wandered far and wide looking for his relative. Finally, after many weeks, he found OleDumuni’s encampment. Olengobeya then raised him and there he started his own village and family. This is my grandfather’s brief history; and consequently our family’s history.
The dates are difficult figure. My grandfather died in 1972; I suppose at the age of about 80. He was very old and he belonged to the right hand of the age group-iltareto.
The second story in your letter recounted the cattle raid at Osinoni. I read the two events, famine and the cattle raiding, as interconnected with the history of our family. We lived at Osinoni as far back as I can remember between 1969 and 1976. Those years I remember well. I grew up at Osinoni and attended primary school at Kakesio, on the edge of the Serengeti. We moved from Osinoni for two reasons. Firstly, we moved due to the prohibition of agriculture at Ngorongoro area effective 1975, and secondly due to the prevalent cattle raiding between the Sukuma and the Maasai. My father wanted to save the family from the “irmang’ati” Sukuma, reminiscent of those his father i.e my grandfather escaped from during the time of the great famine. When I read the news letter; I was struck how history marks its course and repeats itself. I might have repeated the experience of my grandfather at the hands of the Sukuma if my father had not heeded the lessons of history he learned from our beloved grandfather, OleKirinda. Fred Olekarori
This week saw another cattle raid mounted against the Maasai of Endulen-Ngorongoro by the Barabai people from below the rift. This attack was in retaliation for an alleged Maasai raid against the Barabai two weeks ago.
In their retaliatory raid, the Barabai captured four herds of cattle from Esirua, a place some eight miles from Endulen. Maasai warriors gathered in great numbers and followed the raiders who were driving the cattle toward the rift wall and their encampments on the plains below the rift, bordering Lake Eyasi. They caught up with them after only a few miles, and the police, alerted by Maasai coming to the shops at Endulen, arrived quickly on the scene. The “mang’ati” (the enemy), as the Maasai refer to the Barabai, loosed arrows against the Maasai warriors chasing them. A Barabai arrow narrowly missed my head teacher Pakai, one of the warriors tracking the stolen cattle.
The police stopped the fighting and returned the cattle to the Maasai owners to await a court case. Then yesterday word came that the alleged raid by the Maasai never took place. The cattle that the Barabai thought had been stolen were actually lost and now had been found and returned to their villages.
Sandi Grey writes: Ned, please encourage our contributors to make their checks/money orders out in your name, i.e. Ned Marchessault, not mine. That way the contribution becomes tax deductible for them.
Till next month