Vol. 23, #1
Sitting around the with a Maasai family during a recent evening Sipei, a child of seven or eight, was being reprimanded. He and Toreet, another boy his own age had been sent to a nearby village to return a newborn goat that had been separated from it’s mother and ended up in their herd of goats. During their return, Toreet had turned aside to answer a call of nature. Sipei, their home village now in sight, hurried right on. As he entered the village by his fathers’ gate, he met the concerned mother of Toreet. “Where’s Toreet?” she demanded. Oh he just went to squat; he’ll be along in a minute. This turned out to be the truth, but it was clear no one was happy with the way he had left Toreet and arrived at the village by himself. Sipei couldn’t figure out why.
That evening while gathering with his family around the fire Sipei found out what he had done wrong, and I had the good fortune to be there. OleSulel, Sipei’s father told one of the numerous parables parents use in the education of their children. Sensing a story, children quickly gathered from the surrounding houses until there were close to twenty youngsters waiting with expectant faces in the light of the flickering fire for the story to begin.
Long ago, began the old man, there were two warriors traveling to a far part of Maasai country. One afternoon as they were passing through a forested area, Merero said to Parmes, his companion: “Just a moment, I have to go and sit down”, and he went into the bushes bordering the path. Parmes waited a little and then became impatient. Thinking to himself, “Our destination is only an hour or two further on; Merero will catch up with me”, and off he went. Merero unfortunately squatted near a thicket where a bad tempered lone buffalo bull lay resting in the shade. Startled by the noise Merero was making, he charged catching Merero in the thigh with the point of his horn and severing and artery. Merero staggered back to the path hoping to find help from his friend Parmes. Parmes was not to be seen, and Merero passed out and soon was dead from the loss of blood. That night hyenas found the body of Merero and by morning bones were all that was left of Merero. In the morning people found the bones of the warrior whose arrival had been expected the night before, and Parmes was accused of killing his age mate and leaving him for the hyenas. The accusation was widely believed because of a bitter argument that Merero and Parmes had had just the week before over the affections of a girl. Parmes strongly denied killing his fellow warrior.
Elders came from far and wide to participate in the meeting called to decide the innocence or guilt of Parmes. The deliberations extended over a number of days and the verdict was “Oloikop” murder. The sentence was dictated by ancient Maasai tradition, forty nine cows to be paid by the family of the convicted murderer to the family of the dead person. Despite the continued protests of innocence by Parmes, the forty nine cattle were chosen and gathered to be driven to the village of Merero’s family. As the forty nine cattle were driven away from the village of Parmes, they had to pass through a narrow gorge. Entering the cramped path, the cattle smelled a pride of lions not far away and refused to go forward. The warriors tried everything they knew to force the cattle to go on. Nothing worked; the cattle wouldn’t budge.
Medicine men, Diviners, and the wisest elders from far and wide were called together. They spent many hours sitting together puzzling over the interpretation of the cattle refusing to continue their journey. Finally they came to the unanimous conclusion that Parmes must have been innocent after all, and the cattle were driven back to his village.
Now do you know why it was wrong for you to leave Toreet and come home alone, asked the old man of Sipei had understood the parable. Because Sipei said, if anything had happened to Toreet, I could have been blamed. This is how it goes, the very informal but highly effective education of Maasai children.
Till next month,