When a man wants to marry a young woman, he takes the initiative by singing her praises, and giving her a little necklace or jewel. When the news spreads, he brings honey to the women from his clan living in his future wife’s house. They give the honey to the young woman’s mother, and, if she accepts, she rubs her daughter’s stomach with butter. After some time, more honey is brought to the “enkang” (village). This time, it is fermented to produce beer for the young woman’s father, brothers, the elderly members of the clan, and those of his age group.
They drink the beer at the meeting to decide on his proposal. The discussion can become animated while the elderly members weigh up the pros and cons of this new union. As a strictly enforced rule, only a Maasai man can marry a Maasai woman. Instead, there’s no restriction if a Maasai man wants to marry a woman from another tribe. Once an agreement is reached, the young woman is brought to her fiancée’s house. She returns with three female calves, a male calf, a copper wire to make jewellery, some honey, and maybe, two female baby goats, and a male one.
The fiancée, with the help of his brothers-in-law and friends, has to bring four or five heads of cattle to his future bride’s house. On his arrival, some of the elderly join the group. With the bride’s father, the groom, and his delegation, they gather after sunset, in the centre of the house. The arrangements for the wedding are checked; if anything is amiss, the groom makes amends.
At the end of the meeting, they ask for the bride’s intentions. Her father gives her some advice, “From this point onwards, you leave the comfort of your home and family. Nobody will treat you like a little girl again. Now you are an adult, and it’s expected that you must give and not take. You must respect your husband and listen to what he tells you. Don’t leave the house unless the situation becomes impossible.” The young woman’s mother turns to the groom and says, “Take my daughter and treat her right. Don’t make her come back running to our home because then it will be difficult for her to go back to yours.”
At dawn, a goat is killed and offered to the bride’s father. Its fat is collected in a container, to be used for the ceremony. Once her body and clothes are anointed, two elderly members bless the bride on her head, stomach, and feet. She is given advice on how to love and run a household. If she’s pregnant, her stomach isn’t blessed.
The groom, followed by the bride, and the guests, leads the procession to his house. He checks to see if the road is free of obstacles so his bride’s path is clear. On arrival at the groom’s house, the women living in the area give the bride a baby to carry into her new home. She then receives milk to drink and a cow as a gift. For the next three days, she will be in ceremonial dress.
On the fourth day, she dresses normally and becomes an integral part of the family. The marriage is performed with the “enkiyama” ritual, and the woman now enters the husband’s “ol-porror,” but is still part of her original clan. The newly-wed woman will want to become “en-toomononi” (a mother) as soon as she can.
It’s difficult to say how many Maasai there are today. An estimated three hundred thousand are present in Kenya, in the Kajiado, Marok, and Trans Mara districts, and in Tanzania, in the Serengeti and in the lands south of Kilimanjaro (Arusha) up to Dodoma and Morogoro. There are groups of Maasai on Mount Elgon, between Kenya and Uganda on the Laikipia high plains.
The future for this proud and kind people is marked by the changes that have taken place over the last 50 years. The biggest problem for them today is that they are losing their ancestral lands, and, as a result, the freedom to herd their ever increasing number of cows. As time passes, they are forced to change their way of life. Young people, especially those living near large cities, even though they try to preserve their traditions, are losing the ability to speak the traditional language and are losing elements of their traditional culture. Modern life does have an impact on the Maasai way of life.
Frans Mol – Natana Ole Paswa