The Maasai tribe is located in East Africa and live in southern Kenya and northern Tanzania. They cover around 160,000 square kilometers of land along the Great Rift Valley. They have a population of roughly a half million people (The Maasai People). The tribe is considered as pastoralists because their existence is dependent upon the care of domesticated animals (Scupin 176). They are a nomadic group and travel between seasonal grazing areas and watering points. During the wet seasons, they travel to drier low lands, and during the drier times, they travel to higher wet grounds (Anderson 25).
It is crucial to not me in a dry area during the time of a drought because it could result in a loss of many cattle (Anderson 26). Due to the increase of private ownership of lands, the Maasai now have to demand rights to graze their cattle in national parks (Maasai). The people live in Kraals made of thorns to keep the lions from attacking their cattle (The Maasai People). Not only is cattle the main part of their agriculture, their culture is expressed in the term of cattle. The tribe refers to themselves as the “People of Cattle”.
Everything in their lives revolves around cattle from rituals and ceremonies, social relations, symbolism, and also their language (Anderson 25). The Maasai passes down traditions and myths through the generation by storytelling. This is a form of entertainment and a way to express the tribe’s values and structures (Anderson 41). One story they tell explains why they see the ownership of cattle as a gift from God. “One day god told Maasinta, the first Maasai, to build a large kraal (a cattle enclosure). Maasinta did this.
Next, god told him to go and stand inside his house, and not to make a sound, no matter what happened. Very early the next morning, Maasinta heard a sound like thunder. God lowered a long leather thong from the skies, and down this thong, into the kraal, came cattle. There were so many cattle, and their noise was so great, that the surface of the earth shook. Maasinta was gripped by fear, but he did not cry out. But while the cattle were still descending the Dorobo (the hunter) who lived with Maasinta woke from his sleep and went outside to see what all the noise was. He screamed out in surprise.
On hearing his cry, god cut the thong and stopped the cattle descending, Thinking it was Maasinta who had cried out and disobeyed his instruction, god told him he would receive no more cattle, but would have to care for those that were now on the earth” (Anderson 45-46) Another form of the story tells of a God names Ngai. This God was created by the high God Enkai. Ngai was to own all the cattle and take care of them. The sky and the Earth was connected by a long bark rope. One day another tribe, who were hunters and gathers, cut the rope breaking the connection between the sky and Earth.
The cattle could not just live in the sky because they needed the grass from the earth for nutrients. Ngai then sent the cattle down to the Maasai and instructed the people to look after the cattle (Maasai Creation Myth). There is another story that explains why only the men in the tribe own cattle. The story tells of how women use to own cattle. Before the letting the cattle graze one day, one was slaughtered. The herd began to wonder off while grazing. A woman to a child to drive the cattle back, but his mother would not let him until he finished eating a kidney. By the time the child finished, the cattle had become wild.
The women then had to go live with the men and let them supply for the families (The Women’s Cattle). In the Maasai tribe, cattle are also used during ceremonies and rituals. The tribe practices bridewealth, the exchange of wealth from the groom’s family to the bride’s family (Scupin 184). One week before a wedding celebration, the two families meet and decided how much livestock must be paid by the groom. This meeting is called aadung inkishu, splitting of the cows (Maasai Marriage). Before the emuratare, circumcision, can take place, the boy, whom will undergo this initiation, must show they can handle arge livestock and herd cattle for seven days (Maasai Ceremonies and Rituals).
The boys, whom are wanting to become warriors, are taught nkaniet, respect for others, by sharing their cattle with other tribe members (Maasai). There are feasts for every rite of passage ceremony from birth until death. Only one of the ceremonies will a cow be slaughtered to be eaten. The color of the animal to be slaughtered reflect symbolic values. The male elders receive the cuts of meat with the most symbolic values, while the moran gets the cuts that will give him strength (Anderson 52).
During a blood draining ritual, the Maasai will not kill the cow when draining its blood. The warriors will work together to hold the cow in the perfect position for another warrior to shoot the jugular. Once enough blood is pumped out to fill a bucket, the warriors seal the neck wound with cow dung (Blood Rituals and Warriors: The Maasai People of East Africa’s Great Rift Valley). The diet of the Maasai people does not contain much variety. They consume six basic foods including meat of sheep and goat, fat, tree bark, honey, milk, and blood.
The people consume unpasteurized milk either fresh or curdled. They even mix the curdled or fresh milk with blood (Maasai). Since blood is extremely high in protein, it is consumed at times when healing needs to take place, such as to the sick, after a circumcision, or after giving birth. It is also used to eliminate hangovers and intoxication of drunk elders (The Maasai People). The tribe is not allowed to mix milk and meat. They can drink as much milk as they want for ten days. Then they can eat meat for several days in between the milk drinking periods.
Warriors will consume the meat from cattle to get the most nutrients possible. They prefer to have a mixture of blood, fat, and meat in order to get great strength. They will only do this out of sight of the women (Maasai). One way the Maasai determines a person’s wealth is by the number of cattle the n owns (Maasai). Cattle helps determine one’s wealth because of not only the milk, blood, and food, but because of all the useful things that can be done with its dung, urine, hide, and bones. A cow’s dung is used as fuel for cooking and also as a building material (Maasai – Livestock – Cattle).
They will use dung to build their Inkajijiks, house, as a waterproofing agent. Dung also helps the Inkajijik to stay warm (The Burden of a Maasai Woman). The cattle’s urine is also used. The urine is used as an antiseptic to wash and sterilize items they use. It is also used as a medicine and as a building supply for Inkajijiks. The hide of a slaughtered cow can also be used. It can make clothes, slings, sandals, mats and mattresses, and weapon carriers (Maasai – Livestock – Cattle). A cows horns can be used as containers, while the bones are made into cooking utensils.
The Maasai tribe has lost a numerous amount of their cattle towards the end of the nineteenth century because of many reasons. One of the reasons being deadly diseases (The Maasai of Kenya). Thee cattle and people have been exposed to the diseases because of western colonization such as HIV, malaria, trachoma, and cholera (Maasai). The deaths caused by diseases has left the Maasai weakened. This has allowed the government to take away the land for settlers, parks, and wildlife reserves (The Maasai of Kenya). This has caused the Maasai to lose grazing land that once was free of flies to become unsuitable for the cattle to graze (Maasai).
With the change in the society, the Maasai are still fixed in their cultural practices. They have had to somewhat modernize their lifestyle (Anderson 57). The Maasai tribe can no longer maintain the life centered around cattle like they used to. (Maasai). They now have to do some farming. Some areas of the tribe have also had to adjust to tourism (Anderson 57). They also have started making dairy products, cheese, butter, yogurt, and ghee, by processing milk (Tribal Elder Modernizing the Maasai to Avoid Extinction).
Even with their daily issues and suffering a loss of cattle due to the government, the Maasai still look to help others in a time of need. After hearing about the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attack on the United States of America, the Maasai decided to give their support the best way they knew how. The elders of the African tribe blessed fourteen cattle in their native language Maa. They then gave the cattle to the deputy chief of mission of the United States Embassy in Nairobi, William Brancick on June 3rd, 2002 (Where 9/11 News Is Late, but Aid Is Swift).
The United States could not figure out a way to get the cattle out of Africa. The Maasai did not understand why the American man accepted their gift but was not taking it back to America. The United States sent Ambassador Michael Ranneberger to make things right on the 5 vear anniversary of the attacks. He gave the “American” herd to the Maasai to take care of and gave scholarships to fourteen boys and girl. So they could go to school. The scholarships are still sending Maasai children to school, and the herd of cattle is growing (Remembering 9/11: A Warrior’s Unexpected Gift to America).