The History and Culture Of The Maasai People


The Maasai are a Nilotic tribe occupying the central, southern, and northern regions of Kenya and the northern part of Tanzania. The Maasai ethnic group speak the Maa language. According to the 2019 census in Kenya, the population of the Maasai people is in the millions. Both states’ authorities have instituted programs to encourage the ethnic group to leave their customary nomadic culture. However, people have continued with their traditional customs.

This article will take us through the amazing history and culture of the Maasai ethnic group.

The Origin and Migration of the Maasai People

According to their oral history, the Maasai people came from the lower Nile valley north of Lake Turkana and started moving south around the 15th century.

The Settlement in East Africa

The Maasai land reached its biggest size in the middle of the 19th century and covered almost the entire of the Great R. Valley. In 1852, there was a report of a concentration of more than 760 Maasai fighters in Kenya. After 5 years, the Maasai fighters terrorized Mombasa on the Kenyan coast.

The Maasai Emutai of 1883 to 1902 followed the era of expansion. Diseases of rinderpest and smallpox marked this period. According to an estimate, over 85% of cattle and half-wild animals died of rinderpest. This era coincided with drought, and rains failed to fall for about 1 year.

Beginning with a treaty in 1904, the Maasai territories in the Kenyan land decreased by more than 55% when the British chased them away to create room for ranches. The Maasai in Tanzania lost their fertile lands between Mount Kilimanjaro and Meru in the 1940s.

The Maasai Culture

The Maasai society is patriarchal, with older men making decisions on each Maasai unit’s most major concerns. The Maasai mode of worship is monotheistic, whereby they worship one Supreme God called Enkai. Enkai has more than 1 nature: The Black God who is kind-hearted and the Red God who is vengeful and angry. There is also more than 1 pillar of the Maasai society.

The Maasai religious structure’s main human figure is the Laibon, whose tasks include healing and divination.

The customary Maasai way of life focuses on their cattle, which form their main source of food. The Maasai measured a man’s wealth in terms of the cattle or children he had. A herd of over 45 cattle was quite respectable. There was a Maasai religious idea that their Supreme God gave them the right to all the cattle that were on the face of the earth.

The cattle meet all of the Maasai’s needs and want. They consume meat, milk and take blood from time to time.

The Social Organization of the Maasai

The main component of the Maasai society is the age-set. The girls were responsible for small tasks such as cooking. After more than a decade, a new named generation of Morans will undergo initiation. This involved mostly lads between 12-25 who are not part of the earlier age-set.

One rite of passage from the status of boyhood to the one of a junior fighter is a circumcision event without the presence of an anesthetic. The elders are the ones who are responsible for performing the ritual, and they use a sharp cutting knife. A boy undergoing the circumcision process must bear the operation in total silence. Any expression of pain would result in disgrace. The circumcised boys would remain in black clothes for more than 6 months and would live in a manyatta that their mothers have built.

According to the Maasai oral traditions, there was a myth that for a young man to undergo circumcision, he had to kill a lion. The Maasai are customarily polygynous, and they also practiced the act of polyandry.

Other Amazing Aspects about the Maasai People

One of the features is under music and dance. The Maasai music customarily comprises rhythms in which a chorus of vocalists singing harmonies provide while the olaranyani sings the song. Besides, the Maasai have developed a culture of piercing and stretching of their earlobes. They use different materials to pierce and stretch the lobes.

Head shaving among the Maasai people represented a new beginning that one would make as he or she transitions from one chapter of life to another. The Maasai community allowed only the fighters to have long hair.

The sensitive part about hair in the Maasai society was on the part of a woman who had lost her child. The woman who lost her child in early pregnancy would place hair at the back or front of the head, depending on whether she had miscarried or lost a girl or boy. This would represent the recovery of the woman.

Notable Maasais in the Society

Several Maasais in society have held political positions and have achieved various awards. Some of these Maasais include Joseph Ole Lenku, David Rudisha, Edward Sokoine, Edward Lowassa, Olekina Ledama, and James Ole Kiyiapi. Others are William Ole Ntimama, Francis Ole Kaparo, Joseph Nkaissery, Nice Nailantei Lengete, and Katoo Ole Metito.

David Rudisha was born on 17th December 1988. He is a Kenyan middle-distance runner. He was the Olympic Champion in 2016 and 2012 and a 2-time World Champion in the years 2015 and 2011.

David Lekuta is also a world record holder in the 800 meters race. Lekuta is the 1st person to run under 1:41 for the particular event. Besides, he holds the world’s best time in the 500 meters and the African record for the 600 meters. The runner has also won the IAAF World Athlete of the Year Award way back in 2010.

Edward Moringe Sokoine was a notable Tanzanian politician who served more than a term as the Prime Minister of TZ. That is from 13th February 1977 to 7th November 1980 and again from 24th February 1983-12th April 1984.

Edward Ngoyai Lowassa is also a Tanzanian politician who was a Prime Minister of TZ for 3 years (2005-2008) serving under Jakaya Kikwete, the President. He is the 1st Prime Minister in Tanzania’s history and records whom a fraud scandal forced to retire. Following his retirement, President Jakaya Kikwete dissolved his cabinet as the Constitution requires, and with no delay, he formed another one under a new PM (Mizengo Pinda).

James Ole Kiyiapi is a Kenyan politician. He vied for the head of state’s position under the Restore and Build Kenya Party in the 2013 Kenyan general elections.

Ledama Olekina is a Kenyan politician. He holds the position of a Senator for the Narok County in Kenya. People chose Ledama Olekina on an Orange Democratic Movement ticket in the 2017 general elections in Kenya’s land. Olekina was born and raised in Oloombokishi on the 11th of November 1974. Oloombokishi is a small village in Narok. Currently, the senator lives in Eor Ekule. Ledama went to Narok High School and proceeded to the US, where he achieved a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Political Science. He is the originator of the Maasai Education Discovery. Ledama has been in several communities works to conserve the Mau Forest in Kenya. Ledama Ole Kina has many followers on social media, specifically on FB and Twitter. Indeed, Ledama Olekina is one of the extraordinary politicians who are in Kenya.

William Ole Ntimama was a Kenyan politician. He was a supporter of the party of KANU. William Ronkorua Ole Ntimama was loud against multi-party politics like other KANU supporters around that period. He left the ruling party of KANU and entered the DP (Democratic Party).

William Ntimama later joined the ODM (Orange Democratic Movement) during the 2007 general elections. It was during this year that Kenya underwent a difficult time since there was post-election violence. He stayed in the Orange Democratic Movement, and people elected him to represent the Narok North Constituency in Kenya’s Parliament.

Joseph Kasaine Ole Nkaissery was a Kenyan politician too. He was a Member of Parliament (MP) in the National Assembly of Kenya for over a decade (2002 until 2014) when he retired to take up a cabinet position. He took a cabinet position as a Secretary for Internal Security and Coordination of the National Government. The politician was also a senior leader or elder of the Maasai people until his demise on 8th July 2017.

Finally, we have a Nice Nailantei Leng’ete. She is a Kenya human rights advocate, campaigning for another rite of passage for girls in the continent. Moreover, she is campaigning against Female Genital Mutilation, FGM, which is widespread in some rural Kenya regions. Nice Leng’ete has saved more than 10000 girls from undergoing horrific genital mutilation and for many underage marriages. Some years back, Time Magazine named Leng’ete as one of the hundred most influential people in the globe.

From the few listed Maasai people’s works, we can conclude that the Maasai community is one of the greatest ethnic groups in the African region.



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