Vol. 19, #11
The most feared calamity…
Fire in a Maasai house is one of the most feared calamities among the
Maasai. Houses are cow dung igloos, with the main room and smaller ones connected by low narrow tunnels…death traps when fire strikes. Early one morning a couple of weeks ago, word came that fire had struck one of the nomadic encampments some ten miles from Endulen village in the direction of Oldupai Gorge. We immediately set out in our Toyota land cruiser with every water container that we could find filled to the brim. The water was not for the purpose of putting out the fire, since it takes minutes for a fragile Maasai dwelling to burn to the ground but rather to aid the now homeless people. They would not have had time to walk the five miles to the stream for water that day because of the calamity that had struck the village.
We arrived at about nine in the morning to find the two women in
tears that had lost their houses, wives of one man. They were in
tears over their losses, but thankful that no one was injured in the fire.
Their houses had both burned because they were just inches apart. It
seems that about midnight, the children, in this case a group of about
five newly circumcised girls were singing and playing in one of the two houses. They had heaped plenty of wood on the fire and were having a great old time. Suddenly the fire, much too big, licked at grass laid to cushion the cow skins on one of the beds. Since the girls were awake, they immediately grabbed the small children sleeping in the house on one of the beds with the woman of the house and ran outside, rousing the people in the adjoining house too. Thus all the people got out safely.
Unfortunately two baby goats were burned to death; all the skins on the beds, accumulated over many years were burned together with the cooking and eating utensils of both houses. All the gourds for storing milk and whatever spare clothing the people had were lost too.
Because the fires always kept burning in Maasai homes are open
cooking fires and the houses are so vulnerable, serious burns from
tipped over cooking pots and falling into the fire in the case of
small children are very common in Maasai country. Also, a
significant number of houses burn to the ground each year, sometimes with the deaths of those inside, especially when the fires occur in the night.
New born babies…
The new born baby’s bed is beside that of its’ mother, whose leather skirt serves for the baby to lie on. Here the child lies on his side when his mother sits beside him, or at night. At other times she carries her baby about with her, as a rule on her back, less often astride her hip, or on her arm. Only very small babies are carried in the arms. Only very small babies are carried in her arms, and then only in the first month of their lives. The baby still remains on its mothers back, while she works, held fast in her leather upper garment. Only if the baby proclaims its discomfort by continued screaming, is it handed to one of the women nearby to be quieted, or if it is rather older, the mother seats it on the ground in some clean safe place. The father scarcely ever holds the baby in his arms, but only takes it up occasionally for a moment. As soon as the child cries, either at night or in the day time, its mother gives it the breast, or in her absence another woman suckles it. If that does not help to quiet it, it is rocked in the arms, or a lullaby is sung to send it to sleep. Such a lullaby, universally known, is the following:
“Oh my little child, I say to you, grow and become strong in our
village filled with cattle.”
Next year, 2005…
Things are looking good for educational opportunities for our Maasai girls and boys. So far we have gotten seven places in secondary schools and 16 places at Simanjiro Animal Husbandry School. The secondary school places we gotten to date are three at Mbarway (Endulen), three at Wasso (Loliondo) and one at Ngarenarok secondary school. At Ngarenarok, one of our Osotua Prep graduates of this year Esta Long’ida, took first place among many hundreds of applicants in the entrance exams.
Till next month…