Vol. 23, #5
May 15… As everywhere food is skyrocketing in cost. Corn represents the bulk of the diet of Maasai people. Last December, the cost of five gallon container of corn was about $4 US. Now the same amount costs $7. Here at Ngorongoro, we are paying almost $9 a gallon for diesel fuel.
May 30… A small museum was opened today at Laitole where a line of hominid fossil footprints, discovered in 1978 by Mary Leakey, Richard Hay, Tim White and their team, is preserved in powdery volcanic ash from an eruption of the 20 km distant Sadiman Volcano. Soft rain cemented the ash-layer without destroying the prints. In time, they were covered by other ash deposits. The hominid prints were produced by three individuals, one walking in the footprints of the other, making the original tracks difficult to discover. As the tracks lead in the same direction, they might have been produced by a group—but there is nothing else to support the common reconstruction of a nuclear family visiting the waterhole together. The footprints demonstrate that the hominids walked upright habitually, as there are no knuckle-impressions. The feet do not have the mobile big toe of apes; instead, they have an arch (the bending of the sole of the foot) typical of modern humans. The hominids seem to have moved in a leisurely stroll.
Since Laitole is just a few miles from Endulen, the development of the site for tourism will make some major changes for the small Maasai trading center of Endulen. Tourist cars will be passing through regularly. I am wondering what all that will mean for the local Maasai people.
May 31… In recent weeks a number of people have written to me asking for more information about Maasai medicine men. I found this in the book by Hollis. It may be of interest especially because the stealing of the inheritance of Mbatian by the younger son so closely parallels the bible story. We may wonder whether the Hebrew Scriptures got the story from the ancestors of the Maasai or was Maasai history influenced by Hebrew and Semetic traditions.
The medicine men…
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 in, and they know what is going to happen by the number which falls 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 are then 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 an interval of some 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 till the travelers pass by, as their feet will spoil his prophecy. They always know when people are coming, even if they are afar off. When a 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 Baba 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 medicine men belong to the Kidongi family of the Laiser clan, and they are the descendants of Ol-oimooja of ESigiriaishi, the sons of OlleMweiya. 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 Parinyombe, who was the son of Kidongoi, who was the son of ESigiriaishi, the son of OlleMweiya.
The story of the origin of the medicine-men is said to be as follows: OlleMweiya 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 does not go far from their mountain. Now of all the medicine-men 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 arrive. 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 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 all perish, you will have to fight with a powerful enemy and you will be beaten. I wish my successor to be the son whom I give the insignia of the medicine man. Obey him. The elders said: 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 insignia of the medicine man. 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 the hut of his father. On 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, the medicine horn, the gourd, the stones, and the bag, at the same time saying: Thou shalt be the great amongst thy brothers and amongst all the people. Lenana took the insignia of the medicine-man and went away.
Sendeyo then went to his father, but was told that his brother had already been there and been given the 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 Donyo Erok. 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 whichever of his sons he wished should succeed him. They therefore remained with Lenena,
But others said: We will not acknowledge this man for he is a cheat, and they grew in their lot with Sendeyo. Now disease broke out amongst the people of Sendeyo, 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 Lenena dies he will select whichever of his sons in acquainted with the work of Medicine men to succeed him.
The principal badge of the office of medicine-man 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 Mbtian often struck people with his club, and waited until they were about to died, when he gave them medicine and cured them. Lenana, however, is a gentleman and does not kill people in this manner.
Till next month,