A fever to acquire land has captured the collective imagination of Olbalbal Maasai. The village elders have opened the way for the local people to request plots of land in our small
village. The process is to write a letter to the town elders requesting a piece of land to build a house, a shop, a teahouse or whatever. Since the number of plots is limited, a fever to prepare letters of application that cannot be refused has possessed many. In the past few weeks the beginnings of structures have popped up in many places around the village. Many don’t seem to know why they want or need a plot, but the fever has gone viral and numerous people are putting in requests. It is clear that the majority of petitioners don’t plan to live in the village, nor do they have the wherewithal to open a shop or teahouse. But this doesn’t seem to make a difference or to slow the hunger for land. The fever is upon us and we need to get a piece of land.
Traditionally the Maasai don’t own land. Their country is the property of all and is freely used by everyone to build their “in-kang’itie”, their villages, and to graze their herds of cattle, sheep and goats. It is a new phenomenon for a Maasai man to “own” a plot of land, something previously unheard of. Maybe this is part of the attraction. Of course, a Maasai woman, having no rights over material wealth be it cattle or land, is conspicuously left out of this frenzy to get a hunk of real estate.
A related story is taking place some three hours drive to the east of us. There are reports that a “gold rush” is taking place in the Sonjo valley. The word is that over 4,000 people have descended on the Sonjo village of Samunge tearing up people’s gardens and most any other place that is dig-able in their manic search for gold. No news has so far reached us that any of the precious yellow stuff has been found.
Samunge in Sonjo is the same place that saw huge crowds a few years ago. People flocked to Samunge in their thousands. Drinking of a cup of brew boiled from a local plant promised miraculous cures of all ailments. The perpetrator of that fiasco was a man called “Babu.” Many people stopped taking their medicines, even those essential for survival, in exchange for the magic drink. Numerous people died and the “brew” was found to be worthless.
Fr. Gerry Kohler, a Spiritan missionary to the Sonjo people for many years, writes: “Back in the 1930s some Brits were looking for gold in the hills behind the Indians shops near Loliondo town. One of the children subsequently wrote a book about life there in those days, before the World War and well before independence”.
So the land rush continues here in Olbalbal and Gerry’s comments leaving me wondering where I might get a copy of the book that he mentions. It would be fascinating to read an account of what our area of North Maasailand was like in the “30’s.