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Anthropology - Maasai Tribe W/ Biblio.

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The Maasai are one of the many southern-most tribes located in Kenya. They are

physically related, and also in many other forms related to the Samburu and Turkana. The

Maasai have a relatively complex culture and traditions. In fact, for many years they were

unheard of. By the late 1800's we soon discovered more about the Maasai, mostly from

their oral histories.

It is presumed that the Maasai came from the north, probably from the region of

the Nile Valley in Sudan. Also presumed is that they left this area sometime between the

fourteenth and sixteenth centuries, migrating southwards towards he Great Rift Valley.

According to the Maasai oral history, they came from a crater or deep valley somewhere

to the north, at a place called Endikir-e-Kerio . Although many scholars have called

this place the southeastern region of Lake Turkana, many of the oral histories say that

they may have come from further up north, near the Nile river. Whichever location this

is, the migration was caused by a dry spell. According to the Maasai a bridge was

built, and after half the livestock and people had left the dry area, the bridge collapsed,

leaving back the other half of the population. These people later climbed out of the valley,

and were helped by the present day Somali, Borana and Rendille peoples. The Maasai later

entered Kenya, and moved south through the Rift Valley, where there was pasture for

their cattle. Because there was very little surface water, the Maasai resorted to pastoralism

instead of agriculture. The Maasai have adapted to their environment to ensure survival

and the maintenance of their culture.

The Maasai have adapted to the conditions of their environment through their

religious rituals, which function in keeping their political structure, and maintaining cattle

numbers. The idea of religion in the Maasai culture is attatched with the importance they

place on the stages of life. Spear indicates that for the Maasai, God is close yet completely

unknowable. Each ritual transition between age-groups is a step toward old age and

metaphorically a step toward God. According to Emily McAlpin in "The Maasai culture

and Ecological Conditions" the most important event in the ceremony is the

sharing of meat which brings all participants closer to God. Prophets provide a number of

important religious services. They are responsible for divining and healing sickness,

making protective medicines for the initiation of age-sets, and approving the raids by the

warriors. The rituals and ceremonies that the Maasai participate in give added importance

to the lives they lead. With every ceremony that celebrates the step to a more

distinguished age, the added responsibilities given to that person are celebrated. Their

contribution in the society is elevated as well as their honor.

Age is the greatest influence in Maasai society. Other ways of defining status by

age pertain to women; these are called "age-grades". While the age-set is only for

initiated men, women can obtain a higher age-grade after marriage. Age-grades are the

consecutive statuses that individuals are given in the course of their lives. The

rights that are given to women as they progress through age groups include the

responsibilities of herds, land and families. The ceremonies that occur for these passages

through age are important in keeping this established tradition.

The most important ages for both men and women are between 15 and 18.This is

when the girls and boys are initiated into adulthood through the act of circumcision. After

the act of circumcision, both boys and girls are able to take on new responsibilities in their

community, including the right to marry and hold land and cattle for themselves. When a

mother sends her son to be initiated, she presents him with pendants known as surutia to

wear throughout his initiation. He will later return these to her, to be worn proudly as a

sign of her son's status. A mother will wear these surutia all of her life, and they are only

removed in the event of a sons' death. This is also the time for girls to choose different

warriors as boyfriends in such a pattern that many girls wind up sharing one warrior (and

vice versa). These early relationships are a preparation to maintain a productive family

and household in a multiple arranged marriage Merker ([1910:p65, n])

Before marriage, a girl may decorate only the upper ear, and

not the lobes. The upper ear



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