Masai Women And Manhood

Transmission date: April 1975

The Nilotic-speaking Loita Masai are one of 13 sections of the Masai population, once feared for their fierceness. They live along the Rift Valley on the KenyanTanzanian border and are exclusively cattle herders.

Masai society is rigidly divided into agegrades which determine each individual’s status and behaviour. Power is monopolised by the elders and only they have the right to marry. Young men, or Morans must travel away from the villages in order to gain knowledge and maturity that will make them good leaders as elders.

Because women are not allowed to own cattle, it is important for them to marry. The combination of these two factors means that very young women marry men much older than them, often as second or third wives. To compensate, a woman often takes a lover from the Moran ranks, but the relationship is characterised by secrecy and separation. In the first song a woman sings of her lover while she milks her husband’s cows.

In the second excerpt Morans sing, in falsetto, of their former warring days. Only after the eunoto ceremony which marks their transition to elderhood can they return to their villages. The final extracts are from this important ceremony that takes place roughly every seven years and lasts several days.

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