Maasai Circumcision Ceremony

maasai_circumcisionThe Maasai people are an indigenous African ethnic group of East Africa. They live in southern Kenya and northern Tanzania along the Great Rift Valley on semi-arid and arid lands. The community is known for their diverse and rich culture and their patriarchal nature where elder men decide major matters.

While their lifestyle has undergone some changes in the past three decades in particular (some members of the Maasai tribe have moved out of their homeland and into urban areas), their strong social traditions remain intact and so does a good portion of them who have abandoned the urban-wave and remained and kept their customs. The Maasai culture, one of its kind, continues to inspire admiration and interest throughout the world. Its complex social system is based on a profound respect for nature. The traditional ceremonies, as the transition to adulthood for boys and circumcision of girls, are the pillars of a people that have refused to evolve and embrace the modern world. Maasai men are first and foremost warriors. They protect their tribe, their cattle and their grazing lands. Often standing over 6ft tall the Maasai warrior with his beaded hair, red checked blanket (shuka) and balled club, looks both fierce and beautiful. Maasai boys go through a circumcision ceremony at the age of 14 and then traditionally spending up to 8 years looking after livestock far from their villages. They become warriors upon their return to the village to get married. The Maasai women are responsible for all domestic tasks which include making their homes. Houses are made out of sticks and grass, then covered with a mixture of cow dung and mud. The women also do a lot of beading in their spare time, beading necklaces, headdresses, gourds, and dresses. Livestock such as cattle, goats and sheep are the primary source of income for the Maasai. It serves as a social utility and plays an important role in the Maasai subsistence economy. Livestock are traded for other livestock, cash or livestock products such as milk and siege. Due to the adverse weather conditions, the Maasai community has had to adapt to the environment, which includes moving from one place to another in search of greener pastures and water for their animals. During periods of drought, livestock plays an even more important role for the community. However in recent times, the Maasai have become more dependent on foods produced in other areas such as maize meal, rice and potatoes and many of them have even begun farming some of these crops. Traditionally, the Maasai relied on meat, milk and blood from their cattle for protein and caloric needs. They drank blood on special occasions for example; it is given to a circumcised person (O/esipolioi), a woman who has given birth (Entomononi) and the sick (Oltamueyiai). Blood is also drunk on a regular basis by the elders, Ilamerak, who use it to alleviate intoxication and hangovers. The Maasai believe that the rain God, Enkai, gave them animals to ensure their survival when the earth and sky were separated. The essence of their message is that the Maasai get everything they need from both their animals and the earth. The Maasai have cows for several utilities: the milk, meat and blood obtained from these animals are used to feed the tribe, while the skin is used as a mattress, for making shoes and other accessories. The feaces are used as cement for building huts and the urine has medicinal qualities. Union is the strength of the Maasai and it is transmitted through traditional ceremonies despite modernization and the loss of their lands that have been taken away to pave way for the construction of luxury hotels in a country that needs a lot of foreign tourism. The men of the tribe must go through three tests during their lives. The first, circumcision, is undoubtedly the most as it represents the transition from adolescence to adulthood, when the young Maasai becomes a warrior. For this and in order to prove their manhood, the Maasai must confront elephants. Circumcision is also applied to women to prevent them from feeling pleasure during sexual intercourse and thus reduce adultery. Then, there is the ceremony of the Eunoto, which in essence provides men with the permission to marry. The last rite of the three allows the warrior to become wise before entering into the last phase of his life. During the Feast of the Eunoto, which lasts a whole two days, the mothers shave the heads of the young warriors, before painting their heads with red ochre, the color of the beloved land of the Maasai. For this sacred ceremony, an ox is sacrificed and used to feed the whole tribe. The participation of women, all elegantly dressed, is limited to dances. Men sing, dance and jump while observing women. When they have completed the ritual, this test allows them now to find a young wife. Currently, it is difficult to predict the precise lifespan of these millennia-old traditions. In a world where education and employment have even arrived in the Maasai land, many believe that the future of this tribe could be much better if they abandoned these ceremonies.

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