Masai. COMING OF AGE. Masai customs are remarkable, especially the ceremonies that mark the entry into adulthood; a defining time for all Masai people. This process is what shapes their life as well as their role in society. .
COMING OF AGE
Masai customs are remarkable, especially the ceremonies that mark the entry into adulthood; a defining time for all Masai people. This process is what shapes their life as well as their role in society.
As with the majority of the cultures and societies in the world, the Masai place a lot of value in their children; they depend on them for their future hopes and their survival. It is during the childhood years that the parents and the community instill all aspects of their culture and customs.
Raising children in the Masai communities is a communal affair; older people of the community are allowed to discipline disobedient children without the permission of the parents. All children are taught to respect their elders and the ways of the Masai life.
The girls are especially taught about domestic duties while the boys are often taught about the care and protection of the livestock. All kinds of knowledge about traditional medicines are passed on to the children from the parents in their childhood years.
The Masai children grow up knowing about their rituals and traditions that affect every aspect of their life. It is interesting to learn that Masai parents may actually arrange a daughter’s marriage while she is still an infant; this is often referred to as ‘booking’ one’s daughter.
When this happens, the father of the bride ensures that the man possesses enough cattle to pay the bride-price that he demands. In these kinds of cases, usually the girl will be married to a man much older than herself and because polygamy is permitted in this culture, she may be one of many wives in his household.
During their teen years, the boys and girls leave childhood, entering adulthood and this is marked by ceremonies. For the girls, the coming-of-age ceremonies commence once they begin menstruating, which typically happens between the ages of 12 to 16.
When a girl gets her first period, she becomes circumcised; this is preceded with a ceremony that marks the girl’s entry into womanhood and adulthood.
The girls are taught about rituals and ways to deal with sickness, bad fortune, death and most importantly marriage because following this ceremony, the girl is ready for marriage.
For the girls that are already ‘booked,’ this process is quicker because following the ‘coming-of-age’ ceremony, she is immediately married off. Once girls are initiated, they spend their days with the elder women in the community to learn more and more about their customs, rituals, cultures and their roles as women in society
With the boys, it is slightly different. The older boys get in the Masai community, the more they associate with other males of their own generation. In most cases, these relationships that they build with their age-mates last a lifetime. As young boys and age-mates in the community, they often enter the adulthood stage together.
Once young boys reach the age of 14, they are also circumcised and this ceremony is attended by their entire village. Any boy that flinches during this procedure is considered a coward; quite often, he will be disgraced by his family and even his community.
Following this ceremony, they enter the warrior class; they are no longer boys, but morans. As warriors, they accept the responsibilities of protecting the homestead and protecting the livestock from wild animals. Usually, this means they live apart from the village with other warriors.
It is during these years that they learn all kinds of survival techniques, bravery and courage. Their pride lies in protecting their fathers’ herds as well as capturing other people’s cattle; it is upon the morans to ensure that they return the cattle to the rightful owners, which are the Masai.
The Masai believe that God had gave them all the cattle in the world and this is their justification for capturing other people’s cattle. With their lithe muscular bodies, the morans are brave and can face any kind of challenge without hesitation.
One of these challenges includes surrounding and killing a lion that is attacking their cattle; this action quite commonly leads to the morans spearing the lion to death. Once a moran enters his early twenties, he is welcomed back to the village.
Upon his return to the village, he enters his final step in their passage to maturity; he is initiated into elderhood. He can marry once he returns to the village, giving him that respected status in society. He can then focus on increasing the herd of cattle and having children.
With elderhood come a number of responsibilities, some of which include giving advice to others, when necessary. For both boys and girls, entering adulthood is not merely a ceremonial procedure; it is what shapes their world and their outlook.