THE MAASAI PEOPLE

The Maasai people of Kenya
The Maasai people of Kenya

The Maasai are pastoral nomads who have actively resisted change, and many still follow the same lifestyle they have for centuries. Their traditional culture centers on their cattle, which, along with their land, are considered sacred. Cows provide many of their needs: milk, blood, and meat for their diet, and hides and skins for their clothing, although sheep and goats play an important role in dietary, especially during the dry season.

Maasai society is patriarchal and highly decentralized. Maasai boys pass through a number of transitions during their life, the first of which is marked by the circumcision rite. Successive stages include junior warriors, senior warriors, junior elders, and senior elders; each level is distinguished by its own unique rights, responsibilities, and dress. Junior elders, for example, are expected to marry and settle down sometime between ages 30 and 40. Senior elders assume the responsibility of making wise and moderate decisions for the community. The most important group is that of the newly initiated warriors, moran, who are charged with defending the cattle herds.

Maasai women play a markedly subservient role and have no inheritance rights. Polygamy is widespread and marriages are arranged by the elders, without consulting the bride or her mother. Since most women are significantly younger than men at the time of marriage, they often become widows; remarriage is rare.

The Samburu, who live directly north of Mt Kenya, are closely related to the Maasai linguistically and culturally.

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