The ritual of tying grass means a close union with God and with other people. In the life of the Maasai people it plays a significant role in various rituals and blessings
Grass is of prime importance in the life of the pastoral Maasai. The extent of their reverence for grass may be measured by the fact that in the days of Maasai raids on other tribes, they would spare the life of anyone who held up a tuft of grass, for this was a sign of peace and surrender. Small wonder, then, that the tying of grass plays a significant role in various rituals and blessings.
Rituals almost always provide a degree of explanation for the beliefs they embody, which would otherwise remain inexplicable. Fundamentally, tying signifies a close union, a togetherness of the individual with himself, with others, and with Enkai (God). This symbolism is the basis of the various rituals in which it is employed. When a man’s cows or sheep have strayed, he ‘ties’ them symbolically by making knots on a string or with grass while saying appropriate invocations to Enkai, or by calling down a curse on anyone who may try to steal the lost animals. This symbolic tying of the animals prevents them from wandering farther until the owner finds them.
A man may also ‘tie’ a person whom he considers his enemy, or he may ‘tie’ him out of envy or for some other reason. This he does by using various charms and by tying knots on a girdle or on a string. In such maledictive rituals he normally uses seven knots or seven charms, because that number is considered unlucky.
Grass, strings, seven pebbles, and the fruit of the en-tulelei, (sodom-apple) are considered symbolically appropriate, but it is the words accompanying the act of tying that are considered most effective and therefore most important for the whole symbolism. Degrees of effectiveness depend on the importance of the person performing the ritual: the more important the person, the greater the effect of his words. This is why only an older person can bless a younger one.
The ritual of tying grass attains its deepest significance at Eneeni Inkujit, the place where the grass is tied. Eneeni Inkujit is a place in the Loita Highlands, overlooking the great Loita Plains and a good part of the Loita Piateau of Maasailand. The Loita Plateau lies some 2,500 meters above sea level and is marked by peaks that seem to pierce the clouds. As one approaches this tableland one has a feeling of “remoteness, a place feeling of mystery and aloofness”, that is typical of those sacred places far removed from human habitations which give one a sense of God’s presence. Here this sense of mysteriousness is perhaps further accentuated by the fact that this is the land of the clan of the Ilkidongi, the diviners. As one emerges into these immense, smooth rolling plains, one comes almost unexpectedly upon Eneeni Inkujit, which has been described as “a grove which seems to belong to another world”, perhaps because of its unexpectedness in such a place.
Growing at the centre and surrounded by a number of different trees and shrubs is the Oreteti, a giant fig-tree, which is regarded as sacred by the Maasai and under which various rituals and sacrifices, particularly those dealing with fertility and nourishment, have always been offered. The Maasai in Tanzania deliberately plant this sacred tree in their own piece of land and thus provide a place where rituals are held for each family.
Whenever Maasai pass Eneeni Inkujit, they stop to pray to Enkai for His peace and protection during their journey to or from their olosho (clan). They pray, then knot a tuft of grass, undo the knot, pray again, and then remake the knot. While they tie the grass, they say a prayer: “O God, tie my heart, do not let it fall”. Sometimes the elders pray for the whole olosho: “God, tie me to my olosho and do not let it fall”. Another prayer said at Eneeni Inkujit: “O God, let us go in peace and return us in peace. O God, give us health, O God, give us peace. O God, give us heads which are wet (because of rain), and give us good care for our children and fertile young mothers. O God, grant to do everything well to us. O God, make sweet for us the grass so that the cattle may love it. O God, make sweet for us the water so that cattle and people may love it”.