Kenya – Maasai. The drinking of milk ceremony.

One of the characteristic in the life of Maasai is the Eunoto ceremony, drinking milk and becoming elders. We look at the event.

A ceremony that signals the passage from the state of warrior to that of elder is the drinking milk ritual. Beer is brewed in a pristine calabash and the mother of the warrior who will go through the ceremony  stores some milk. When the beer is being brewed, warriors come to the settlement, and two elder maternal uncles belonging to the godfather-group are called to give the warrior his milk.

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In the early evening when the herding is done, the two elders and the warriors gather. The warriors are given milk to drink with the twig of a wild olive tree. When this is done, a little of this sweet milk in placed in a small gourd and poured into a small calabash with curdled milk and a little water. The drink is then given to the warrior. In turn, the warriors bring the drink to the elders to bless it. Those belonging to the Olotuno circumcision-group and the other office bearers are first given milk to drink and then all members  get milk to drink. The warrior at the centre of the ceremony sits right inside the main bed, dressed in a black cloth, whilst his mother stands near the bed. One elder is dressed in a cloak and he holds the milk for the warrior.

ms 3The elder stands holding the milk out to the warrior, but at first the warrior refuses the milk, until the people of his family give him cattle. When the warrior knows that the people of his whole family and his age-mate warriors will give him cattle, he drinks the milk. He sucks the milk four times whilst the elder holds it out to him, after which the elder gives it to him to hold himself and to drink till satisfaction. The warriors then sing and dance, while the elders are given honey-beer. When it is time to go to sleep, the warriors go outside and leave the one who drank milk so that he can to sleep in his mother’s house in between the two elders of the godfather-group.  The morning after, when the early red dawn spreads around, the mother of the warrior gets up and raises a bull which has not yet managed to catch a cow. She also takes up some dung but allows the first amount to slip through her fingers, and holds on to the rest. She has a  small gourd in which she places the urine of a small ox and a goat. This she takes to the house to keep it and then goes to milk the cattle. The evening before, the two elders had come with a stick of an aromatic bush pulled out by the roots, and they stripped off the leaves leaving a few near the top. These they stuck into the gatepost on the left as one enters the settlement.  In the morning, they rise and remove that stick and give it to the warrior who is to be an elder in the kraal and they place this for the warrior along with the white stick of an entopisianoi-tree, so that there are now two.

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While the cattle are in the kraal and the gate is still closed with some thorn-branches, the elders and the warrior enter the cattle pen holding a small stool on which white chalk is powdered. They hold the top of a calabash with sweet milk in it and also put the urine of the young bull and the goat on the stool, along with  the dung of a bull. All these are now to be thoroughly mixed together. The warrior’s face is then anointed covering both his cheeks. His right shin is also anointed in blessing. The words are: Be favoured in cattle and people; this is at the blessing of the face. Then they say to him: May children put bracelets on you, boys as well as girls; this is at the blessing of the foot. And his sticks are anointed with the words: Be matched, the sticks of the boys and of girls. At this, everything is mixed together: white chalk, milk, urine, dung, beer. This is called ‘olkupelia’, the big blessing by which he becomes an elder ever after.
When ‘olkupelia’ has been performed, the cattle go out of the settlement, and he too goes out amongst the cattle, and beats three calves with a special stick, beginning with a bull and then the other cattle. And when the cattle have been struck, he sees them off for a while before returning into the settlement, where he is shaved again. The next morning he goes out with the cattle for four days. And with this the ceremony of drinking milk is over.

Frans Mol


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