Naponu lives here on the mission with her children and watches the place during my daily trips to villages for teaching and prayer meetings. She was silent this
morning. Her normal smiling face was suffused with sadness. She was clearly preoccupied with something. Whatever had happened, it wasn’t good. It developed that the fat goat she was preparing to exchange for a heifer had died. Naponu was depending on the hoped-for heifer to provide her children with milk. She has no cattle, not even one. The heifer would have been the beginning of a herd for her family.
It seems that the unfortunate goat had strayed a distance from the rest of the flock into the bush and there was bitten by a snake. A small band of passing warriors came upon the dying animal, slaughtered it and enjoyed a feast. Naponu doesn’t believe it. She says that the warriors came upon the strayed, temporarily unattended goat, and took advantage of the situation. In fact, she has sent her brother, a warrior himself, to find and confront the goat-stuffed warriors. He left early in the morning and hasn’t yet returned.
Generally, the Maasai tend to take this kind situation philosophically. They say that the warriors are the protectors of Maasai country. If there is any threat to a village from cattle thieves or from other tribes, it is the warriors who mobilize and address the threat. If a child is lost, it is the warriors who search the countryside for the missing child. When lions or leopards attack the Maasai herds of cattle and goats, it is the warriors that respond, tracking down and killing the offending cat. They do this, at the risk of being permanently maimed or even killed, something that happens all too often in encounters with lions. So people feel a disappeared, or a snake bit one now and then, is a small price to pay for the level of protection provided by the warriors. Of course, it is usually somebody else’s goat that goes missing.
Some months ago in the middle of a moon lit night, going outside to answer a call of nature, Naponu spotted a leopard just a few meters from our front porch. She made the unique trilling sound that the Maasai make in the face of danger. That sound travels great distances and within a short time a number of warriors had awakened and came running from the nearby villages. They chased the leopard away and stayed around for most of the rest of the night in case the cat returned.
The warriors were and remain today the militia that guards Maasai country, responding to emergencies of all kinds. Their role, as we have seen here at Olbalbal in the cases of lost children and lion attacks, is an important and necessary one. But Naponu is anything but philosophical about her loss. She is happy that the warriors are around and respond to emergencies, but strongly feels that they shouldn’t take advantage of that by randomly catching and eating her goats. She was depending on that goat to get big and fat enough to exchange for a heifer that would develop into a cow and provide milk for her children.