In the land where the Maasai live, the Great Rift Valley of Kenya and Tanzania, cacti trees dot the green savannah. There are ample lakes, winding rivers, and vast plains leading sweetly towards green hills. The far away mountains have magical names – Kilimanjaro, Kenya, Meru, and Lengai. They look after this savage and mysterious land.
An intense equatorial light shines everywhere. The air is imbued with the smell of Leleshwa leaves. Herds of zebras and antelopes graze the land. There, on the horizon, stands a lion with its thick mane blowing in the wind.
The Maasai follow grass growing as the precious rain wets the earth. They live as they always have, nomads, but they aren’t homeless or without time.
A legend tells the story of a long time ago when Engai (God) had three children to whom he wanted to give three gifts. To the first, he gave a bow to hunt, to the second, a rake to harvest the land, and to the third, a stick to get the herds to pasture. The third child, called Natero Kop, was the father of the Maasai, and from his example, the Maasai have became proud shepherds.
In the shadows of Mount Lengai, the Maasai watch the sun rise and set, as it watches over their herds in the golden savannah. Standing still, erect, and at times on only one leg, the Maasai’s thoughts get lost in the wind, and time passes gently.
The Five Clans
Another legend recounts Natero Kop’s two wives. He gave one some red cows and she built a house to the right of her husband’s house. He gave the other some black cows and she lived to the left of his house. Each wife was named after the colour of their cows. The first, “Red Cow,” gave birth to three children: Lelian, who started the Ilmolelian clan, Lokesen, who founded the Ilmakesen clan, and Losero, who begun the Iltaarrosero clan. These three families founded the right pillar of the Maasai people.
“Black Cow” had two children: Naiser, the first of the Ilaiser clan, and Lukum, the founding father of the Ilukumae clan. These two families formed the left part of the Maasai.
The Ilmolelian and the Ilaiser are the most powerful clans.
Each clan has a main symbol. Even the cattle wear the family banner. Every family then has its coat of arms, which is smaller than the main symbol. It shows which family a member comes from. Each family marks the ears of their cattle in a particular way.
Cows’ ears are cut to represent both the family and the clan the owner belongs to. Sheep and donkeys instead have their ears cut as the owner wishes.
A lost cow’s clan or owner can be identified. An animal’s owner or clan can be discovered merely looking at the cattle grazing in the Maasai territories.