The Maasai of Kenya and Tanzania are all cattle keepers. The economy of the Maasai is based on their cattle and all the social aspects of the community are based on livestock. During drought or famine the Maasai exchange livestock with other communities such as the Kikuyu, Okiek or Kamba. They give butter in an effort to get honey, ostrich feathers and grain.
In periods of conflict, cows and sheep are usually used to negotiate and reconcile. Black and red coloured cows with white bellies are very important because a person who is considered to have an Oibor oshoke, a white stomach, is a good, generous human being, one who loves others, is peaceful and who will not complain when mistreated or oppressed. This person is always looking for good instead of bad things. That is why black or red cows with white bellies are very important in the community.
On the contrary a person who has an Orok oshoke, a black stomach is one who is very troublesome, stubborn, quarrelsome, jealous and one who is very mean. People in the community don’t want to be associated with such people. This leads to the proverb which says: Eeta enkoshoke enkitok Ilgilat kumok, a woman’s stomach has many sections. It can give birth to a very good person as well as a very bad person.
Goats are associated with bad people because of their greed. As for the dog, it eats its own waste and vomit because of having a ‘deaf ear’. For a long time the dog was called Lenanu by God. God told the dog not to tell the secret that God had told him. However, Lenanu ignored God’s command and told the man the secret. In the process he was cursed to feed on man’s own waste and to be his slave forever. The saying goes when negotiating for peace: One pee einosa oldiankik enkiook mingani einosa; the dog was cursed by God because of his deaf ear.
The dog ate Inkik, waste remains, because he ignored God’s command (had a deaf ear). Ore pee einosa oldia inkik enkok mihgani einosa, The people are told to take heed of what the elders say so that they may not fall into calamity later. White cows are very important in the Maasai community because they are taken by the Olamal to the Oloiboni with a request for guidance. They are sacrificed to seek rain during drought and are also used in other important ceremonies associated with peace and prosperity.In case of murder, 49 cows, especially of white or light red colour, are selected to cleanse the murderer. When the murderer pays this fine, peace is sought and the two families reconcile and become friendly again. They even exchange daughters for marriage within the two families as a seal of love and good will. If sheep are used, 249 sheep are chosen of light red, black and white colour.
Importance of environment
Generally the Maasai live in the arid and semi-arid lands of Kenya and Tanzania. The environment is very important to the community, especially in ceremonies. Hills are considered to be important in ceremonies such as rain sacrifices. The Maasai believe that God lives in hills and therefore hills are very important because of peace. When seeking for peace and blessings, the elders always refer to the hills such as Oloolaiser, Oldoinyo oibor and Oldoinyo keri, (Ngong Hills, Mont Kilimanjaro and Mont. Kenya respectively). They also slaughter most of their livestock on hill slopes.
Trees are also very important. For example, while slaughtering a bull one has to choose about four trees that are either of Olkiloriti (Acacia species),0lngosua (Acacia Egyptica), or Oseki. These trees are said to be blessed and may cleanse one from the wounds he might have caused to others. One cannot perform any ceremony, such as circumcising his children before he slaughters a bull. During the process, the man is fed the chest meat, which is smeared on his face and chest as a form of anointing. After this, one is said to be clean and is not allowed to go to any war because he is now a father and must be compassionate in nature.
Other vegetation which is very important are the Enaiteteyiai, Olmisigiyioi and Olonini. These are used because they are considered to be peaceful and cool vegetation that can be an amulet for bringing peace.
Grass is also very important in the Maasai environment. It is food for livestock and it is also a ceremonial symbol of peace. To show that one has surrendered, one has to hold green grass in his hand. When he does this, he will not be fought with because he has submitted and wants peace. Grass is also used to cover the Iturumet, the gourd, which the elder of a family who has circumcised a son or daughter, holds at the gate of his livestock. This shows that there is joy and peace in the home or family. It is a sign that seeks blessings and prosperity from God. Where there is no peace, there is no prosperity.When a young woman is being married, the father blesses her with milk and green grass. He tells her to go in peace and prosper. The grass is put between the toes of the feet, at the back, as well as at the head, requesting that God give her peace during the journey and in her later years.
Another resource that is very important in the Maasai peace process is water. Water saves those who are defeated because when a person gets into water, he will not be fought with because he has shown that he wants peace.When they are circumcised, boys or girls who are undergoing the process are washed with well or spring water to cleanse them of their previous sins. In the absence of water, women prepare Enkare entolu, water of the axe, whereby the axe purifies the water. It is then poured onto the individual to cleanse them so that they may live peacefully in later years as an adult.