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Tanzania/Maasai. The Woman Of The Oxen.

The Maasai have a saying: “you cannot touch what belongs to a woman”. Indeed, the Maasai – who live in a patriarchal society – are nonetheless very respectful of women’s private property. The proverb came about because of an event that happened years and years ago …

Long ago, when the Maasai had just climbed the escarpment, an old man and his newly-wedded bride went to graze their cattle. Two warriors arrived and admired the cattle. One of them told the old man: “Father, would you mind us taking these oxen of yours?” The old man replayed: ” I do not mind, however, you have to ask my wife, if she does not mind, you may go ahead.” The warriors were surprised. What was this nonsense of asking a woman for her opinion? So, they chose the two best oxen and took them. In the meantime, the old man asked his wife to check what the warriors were doing, and find out who they were.

Time passed, and the young lady gave birth to a son, then another. Finally, she gave birth to two twins. The children grew strong, and the father was happy to give them gifts of meat. The four boys grew and were circumcised. They became warriors after their shaving. It was only them that the father called them and asked them to pick up their weapons and follow him.

He took them to the country of the warriors who had taken the oxen. By then the warriors had become elders and were sitting outside their homes playing enkeshui, a game played with pebbles on a wooden plank. After they had exchanged greetings, the father of the four warriors told the other elders to come together in counsel, for he had something he wanted them to discuss.

The men gathered for the meeting. The old man called one of the men who had taken the oxen and told him: “My friend, do you remember me? Do you remember me?” Recognising the old man, the former warrior said “Yes, I remember you”. The old man continued: “Do you remember the day you took two of my oxen and I told you to take them if the young lady did not mind?” The other man said he remembered the day. “That young bride never had a chance to tell you she did not want you to take the oxen. These young warriors you see are the sons of that young bride. They came here to recover their property.”

What else was there to do? Forty-nine cattle were driven being the fine for one ox, and another forty-nine for the second ox, since those men had committed robbery. This confirms the truth of the saying: “That which belongs to a woman cannot be taken away.”

(Story from Maasai people, Tanzania)

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