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Maasai Ceremonies and Rituals


There are many ceremonies in Maasai society including Enkipaata (senior boy ceremony), Emuratta (circumcision), Enkiama (marriage), Eunoto (warrior-shaving ceremony), Eokoto e-kule (milk-drinking ceremony), Enkang oo-nkiri (meat-eating ceremony), Orngesherr (junior elder ceremony), etc. Also, there are ceremonies for boys and girls minor including, Eudoto/Enkigerunoto oo-inkiyiaa (earlobe), and Ilkipirat (leg fire marks). Traditionally, boys and girls must undergo through these initiations for minors prior to circumcision. However, many of these initiations concern men while women's initiations focus on circumcision and marriage.  Men will form age-sets moving them closer to adulthood. 

Women do not have their own age-set but are recognized by that of their husbands.  Ceremonies are an expression of Maasai culture and self-determination. Every ceremony is a new life. They are rites of passage, and every Maasai child is eager to go through these vital stages of life. Following is where a boy's life begin in the Maasai society.

Enkipaata

The first boy's initiation is Enkipaata (pre-circumcision ceremony), and is organized by fathers of the new age set. Enkipaata can only happen, when the senior warriors are settled. More on senior warriors will be discussed later in this page.

A delegation of boys, aged 14 to 16 years of age, would travel across their section land for about four months announcing the formation of their new age-set. The boys are accompanied by a group of elders spearheading the formation of a new age-set.

A collection of 30-40 houses are built for the initiating boys. The houses are located in one large kraal chosen by the Oloiboni (prophet). This is where all boys across the region will be united and initiated. Before the ceremony, the Olopolosi olkiteng, chief of the boys, must be chosen. Olopolosi olkiteng is a position not desired by anyone because it is considered unfortunate. The new chief is to shoulder all of his age group's sins. The day before the ceremony, boys must sleep outside in the forest.  When early dawn approaches, they run to the homestead and enter with an attitude of a raider. During the ceremony, boys dress in loose clothing and dance non-stop throughout the day. This ceremony is the transition into a new age set. After enkipaata ceremony, boys are ready for the most important initiation known as Emuratare (circumcision).

Circumcision ceremony is the most vital initiation of all rite of passages in the Maasai society. Both men and women of the Maasai society are traditionally eager to undergo through circumcision. This initiation is performed shortly after puberty.

It is important to note that with the rising challenges of the 21st century in the Maasai society, many young Maasai women no longer undergo through circumcision.

Young men are still eager to be circumcised and become warriors. Once the boys become warriors they resume responsibility of security for their territory.

Circumcision initiation elevates an individual from childhood to adulthood. In order for the boy to be initiated he must prove himself to the community. The boy must exhibit signs of a grown man, by carrying a heavy spear, herding large herd of livestock, etc.

 

A few days before the operation, a boy must herd cattle for seven consecutive days.  Circumcision would take place on the eighth day. Before the operation, boys must stand outside in the cold weather and receive a cold shower to cleanse himself. As he moves towards the location of the operation, his friends, age mates and male members of the family shout encouragement along with nasty looks and sometimes threats. For example, people would tell the boy, "If you kick the knife, we will kill you! If you run away from the knife, your society will disown you. Women are luckier and are spared of such comments. Needles to say, circumcision is not pleasant. No pain relief drugs such as anesthesia, and you cannot flinch your eye. Circumcision is painful yet means a lot to every Maasai.

Time and Place of Circumcision

Circumcision takes place shortly before sunrise. It is performed by a qualified man with many years of experience. After the operation is successfully completed, the boy would receive gifts of livestock from his relatives and friends. He would also gain a tremendous amount of respect for his bravery. Women's operation is performed slightly different than the men's. Note: Due to respect for my culture and its gender boundaries, as a man, I am not permitted to discuss details about women's initiation.

The healing process will take 3-4 months, and boys must remain in black cloths for a period of 4-8 months. After they are healed, they have become a new person and receive the status of a new warrior.

After circumcision, the next step is to form the Emanyatta (warrior's camp).

Emanyatta contains twenty to forty houses randomly selected by warriors. The selection of this camp is sometimes a bit of a challenge. Not every elder would like his wife to be in an emanyatta, because it is a free visit zone for everyone. Jealous husbands are more likely to refuse to participate in the camp; they think that their wives' former lovers will take advantage of her. Therefore, warriors sometimes fights with their jealous fathers. Weapons such as spears, clubs and shields are carried by warriors during this time because, occasionally, the battle can get very serious. Warriors will choose certain mothers to relocate at the emanyatta for the duration of its existence. Each Maasai section has its own age-set. The two most common camps are Ilaiserr and Irmolelian (clans); however, it is common for a section to have more than two emanyatta camps.

A special pole, planted in the middle of the camp, is used as a flagpole. The white and blue colored cloth, the Maasai nation's flag, is tied to the pole before planting, and remains there as long as the Morrans (warriors) are still in the camp. (This is the first time in history for the age set to combine the Kenya national flag and the Maasai flag.) Two morran chiefs are chosen to lead, guide and represent their camp. The purpose of the camp is to keep men of the same age set together and fulfill their role as a military force. This is where the warriors learn about the age set brotherhood, the art of oratory skills and animal husbandry. They will spend up to ten years in the emanyatta before the Eunoto ceremony (senior's warrior initiation).

Like many other eroding Maasai cultural customs, the emanyatta is not left unscathed. Many attempts have been made by the outside world to end this traditional custom because it is seen as backward.  However, even though the government frowns on warrior hood, it also uses its image to attract tourists. The emanyatta ceremony that we presented in The Maasai and Agents of change is probably the last of its kind. Fire stick, honey and blue beads are other rituals performed in the Manyatta (warriors camp) and play an important role in the Orporror (morrans age group).  After the emanyatta camp the warriors would head for eunoto ceremony (senior warrior's initiation).

Eunoto

The Eunoto ceremony is performed by members of the age set, ten years after warriorhood. It marks the status of a warrior transitioning to a senior warrior. This initiation also permits senior warriors to marry, which in turn prepares them to become future fathers. The ceremony takes place in another specially chosen camp that includes a total of forty-nine houses. The forty ninth house is known as Osinkira, a large mud hut made specificaly for the Oloiboni. Warriors on a daily basis will entertain the Oloiboni until the event is over. Every graduating warrior must shave his long ochre-stained hair, which is done by the warrior's mother. During the festival, warriors are prohibited to carry weapons such as sticks, spears, knifes, etc. Also, during this event, an animal horn is set on fire and warriors are forced to take a piece out before it is completely burned. No one wants to take the piece out, because whoever takes the horn out of the fire will suffer misfortunate throughout his entire life. However, if warriors refuse to take the horn out from the fire, the entire age-set will be cursed. It is better for one person to be unfortunate than many. 

Warriors must raise eight bulls, before the ceremony, to be distributed to the elders at the graduation day. Three important leaders must be chosen by the warriors before the ceremony; Olaiguanani lenkashe, Oloboru enkeene and Olotuno (the initiate one). No one would like to be one of these leaders, particularly the Olotuno. This person shoulders all of his age set's bad and good deeds.  The Olaiguanani lenkashe is honored with a specially chosen female cow; Oloboru enkeene is honored with a leather strap with a knot that symbolizes his age set. By the end of warrior-hood, this knot will be untied to free the warriors from their isolated world. The knot allows warriors to do things independently from other age mates. This stage of life is a transition to an elder.

A few months after the Eunoto, warriors form a small camp for Enkang e-kule, the milk ceremony. Before the Eunoto ceremony, warriors are prohibited to eat alone without the company of others. Excuses are not accepted; even the sick must obey the requirement.  To drink outside the camp is allowed but only if women are not present. Such social taboos are established by the Maasai to teach young men to be self-reliant rather than dependent on their mothers who mostly prepare food for her husband and the young ones. Also, such  taboos train and prepare warriors to adapt to harsh environmental conditions such as famine etc. The milk ceremony requires the entire age set to shave their red ochre stained hair. It is the mother's role to shave her graduating son. No warrior will shave his hair before his highly respected age set chiefs. Many of them prefer to graduate on the same day as their chiefs. For the first time, warriors feel awkward and shameful to eat in front of their female lovers. It takes a while for them to get used to this.  After the milk ceremony, warriors undergo minor bouts of emotional stress, because they are disbarred from the world of warrior hood.

The next initiation is Enkang oo-nkiri (meat ceremony/initiation camp), which is performed in a selected camp that contains ten to twenty houses. The selected houses are from wives of the initiating junior elders. This camp is located in a convenient location near the home of a friendly age mate. The age-set is allowed to have as many meat camps as they need throughout the region. 

The meat ceremony permits warriors to eat by themselves meat prepared by women of the homestead. Every graduating warrior is anxious to see this date. A specially chosen bull is slaughtered for the ceremony. A wife must prove to her husband that she hasn't engaged in an illegal sexual affair with a man of the younger age set.  Whether this has occurred or not will be revealed by participating in the bull's skin ritual. Men wrestle with themselves to get near the bull's skin to see if their wives have been unfaithful to the age-set. It is right for a wife to have affairs with men of the same age set but not outside the age set. If a woman is found guilty of violating such a commitement, she will be disrespected by her husband and by her entire age set. 

For a woman to regain respect from her husband, she must go back to her father or relativ's home to obtain a female cow. No man would refuse such an apology; however, the man might not keep the cow. he would then give the cow to his friend as a gift. 

At the end of the meat ceremony, men and women fight against one another for the specially roasted meat. Warriors who violated their age set taboos and laws are punished before this event takes place.

The last age set's initiation is Orngesherr (junior's elder initiation) and marks the status of a junior elder. It is performed in a selected camp that contains twenty or more houses. Every one in the age set looks forward to this final initiation. Every man is honored with an elder's chair in this ceremony. In the early morning of the day of the event, he will sit on the chair and be shaved by his wife. If a man has more than one wife, it is the older wife's responsibility to shave the husband. This chair becomes a man's friend until it is broken. If a man dies before the chair breaks, his older son will adopt the chair.  After this ceremony, a man would become an elder and would assume full responsibility of his own family. He is now allowed to move away from his father's homestead and form his own homestead. However, even though the man is now an indipendent man, he would still have to rely on his father's advice. A man would assume total responsibility of his family at the age of about 35 years.

It is important to note that many of these initiations and rituals have been eroding due to outside influences. We are told to abandon our way of life and to embrace western ways of life, which has been deem reliable and sufficient to ours. Our culture remains uncertain in the face of modernism, western religion, and environmental challlenges.

"It takes one day to destroy a house; to build  a new house will take months and perhaps years. If we abandon our way of life to construct a new one, it will take thousands of years", Maasai belief.

 

 

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Graphic design, data architecture, technical implementation by Ole Maimai,

 

Facts about Maasai rite of passage

Enkipaata, Emuratta, Eunoto, Eokoto e-kule, Enkang oo-nkiri, Orngesherr, are the most popular rite of passages and ceremonies in the Maasai society.

Of all initiations circumcision is the most important rite of passage in the Maasai society.

With the rising challenges of the 21st century many young Maasai women no longer undergo through circumcision.

Traditionally, circumcision initiation was a way to elevate an individual from childhood to adulthood.This rite of passage helped Maasai persons to find their place in the society.

Emanyatta is a warriors camp (kraal) with 30 to 40 houses. The houses are randomly selected by warriors. While at the camp, the warriors would learn about oratory skills, animal husbandry, a sense of brotherhood, and security for their land, cattle, and people.

Oloiboni is a highly regarded spiritual leader in charge of Maasai religious, customs, and traditional affairs. With the rise of external religions in Maasai land loibons are becoming less visible. Loibons are believed to be devil worshipers by non-traditional Maasai.

The most popular Maasai loibon was known as Olanana. Loibons are descendants from Inkodongi clan.