“God, please give us children; please give us livestock.” In the prayers of the Maasai, children and cows are inseparable. If a Maasai has children, he will need cows to feed and dress them, and he will need children to herd the cows.
Children and cows, therefore, are equally important. If the Maasai had to choose between the two, they would choose their children, for two reasons. The first is that the Maasai worship their children – they often use expressions such as “my soft umbilical cord,” “my fragile bones,” and “the child of my beloved husband.” As a result, a man with many children is richer than a man with many cows. If he has many daughters, they will one day marry, and he will receive, as a dowry, many cows. If he has sons, one day they will become warriors and capture many cows in their battles against other tribes. In the end, it’s more important to have children than to have cows.
At the first signs of pregnancy, the Maasai women shyly ask their husbands for their favourite food. This request has to be satisfied immediately. If it isn’t, something could beset the child. As the pregnancy continues, the woman becomes more selective with food. She eats less and drinks more water. Fresh milk is forbidden as it is commonly thought that a fat baby will result in a difficult delivery.
The expectant mother should never eat the meat of a diseased cow, but only eat fresh meat. All her food must be cooked and she must drink a lot of water to purify her stomach. Maasai children come into this world accompanied by their mothers’ screams: “hold, rest, and push hard,” are expressions often heard. Children are born in their mother’s house with the help of a midwife. She has the responsibility of helping deliver the child, cutting the umbilical cord, and pronouncing these words: “you are now responsible for your life, like I’m responsible for mine.” They speak of the difficult world into which the child is born – a contrast with their mother’s softness and warmth. They also mark the separation of the mother from the child. They now have their own lives to lead.
The mother and child are then washed in a mix of milk and water. The child’s sex is very important. The father, who cannot be present during delivery, is immediately informed of the sex. If the baby is a boy, the midwife will tell the father to take the blood from the jugular vein of a bull and to pretend to take it from a heifer. The ritual is inverted for a girl. If the newborn is a boy, a boy puts the blood into a pumpkin container; a girl does likewise if the newborn is a girl. Those who see this ritual know if it is a little boy or a little girl that was born.
The mother drinks the blood of both a bull and a heifer mixed with warm milk. In the house where the newborn was delivered, a ram, the “olkipoket,” is killed and the village women who gathered to bring milk for the newborn’s mother eat its meat.
From Childhood to Adulthood
When a boy is ready to bring the cows out to pasture, he becomes part of the “ayiokisho.” All the boys of the same age form a group that will be circumcised together.
During this period, there are various ceremonies; the most important is the “en-gilata ol-piron,” the breaking of the twigs, led by Ol-Oiboni, an expert in rituals. Then there is the “enturoto e motonyi,” the anointing of the boys. From this moment, the newly initiated are under the authority of the senior members, who have lit a fire for them after the “en-gilata ol-piron.” The senior members are the second age group, slightly older than the new group.
After almost four years, this group will have the right to celebrate the “en-kipaata,” which is, fundamentally, a dance that lasts four days. At the end of the four days, the group gets a name. Some Maasai groups celebrate it immediately after the “e-mouo o Ikiteng,” the ox horn. Other groups celebrate it later, at their next stage of development, when they decide who will have the honour of performing official roles.
After this celebration, the newly initiated group is ready to be “e-murata,” circumcised. The first celebration is the “emurata e tatene,” the circumcision of the right hand. This group is called “ol-porror le dukuya,” the first circumcision group. The participants quickly pass through “ol-airbartani,” (the novice stages) and are then shaved. This signals their imminent entry into the group of warriors. For this whole period, the young boys are still part of the childhood group.
The “ol-porror le isadi,” the second circumcision group, begin their preparation and perform the same ceremonies as the first group. Once the second group has been circumcised, the two groups re-unite, signalling the end of their childhood. They are now ready for the “e-murano” stage, becoming warriors.
The “ol-kiteng loo nkulanen” ceremony introduces the young Maasai boys. Other blessing ceremonies follow. The most famous Maasai celebration is the “e-unoto,” the planting. In this ritual, young warriors become senior warriors. During the “e-unoto,” some warriors are chosen to perform public duties and a new “en-kipaata” is celebrated.