Life of a Maasai Warrior
Kenya’s Maasai tribe has become an icon for the richness and diversity of our country’s culture, a people whose traditions, beliefs and routines have changed little since the dawn of our history.
The way we live now, even as so much is changing around us, the way our society is structured, the pride that binds us and keeps us strong, all of these look the same today as they would have done to our ancestors long ago.
Our way of life is still very close to that of our ancestors, our society is organized in the same way and modernity has not affected us much yet. We are semi-nomadic pastoralists: our livestock is our livelihood. Our whole society revolves around our cows, sheep and goats, as it did for our forefathers.
Warriors, all the young men in our community, are in charge of protecting livestock from predators and enemies, and, these days, of taking cattle to far away pastures during the dry season. Women and children look after goats and sheep, that are more resilient and can remain near the homesteads also during the dry spells- thus always providing milk and meat for the family. Elders keep peace and harmony in our community, settling disputes, administering justice, negotiating with neighbouring tribes and these days with the local administrations.
Being a warrior is exciting and fun, it has many privileges but also many duties. Many of us look at those times as the best in our lives- though by no means the easiest. To become warriors we have to demonstrate our bravery: we have to undergo circumcision in front of the whole community, without flinching or squinting our eyes or giving any other sign that we are experiencing pain. After all, if we cannot stand bravely that bearable pain, how can we persuade the elders that we will risk our lives to protect our livestock and our community?
After circumcision we have a whole month to heal. We are dressed in black, and every homestead where we go has to slaughter a sheep to feed us and honour us. We spend our days chasing girls, in a much more literal sense than what you are thinking: we have to run after them to get special rings that they make for us, and the more we have the better. This exercise helps us to recover.
Once the healing period is over, we become effectively warriors. We now belong to an age group, a group of peers with whom we share duties and responsibilities. We have strict rules to follow: we can’t eat meat at home, instead we have to go out in the bush and slaughter an animal with other warriors- this is to prevent us eating the meat for the rest of the family; we cannot eat or drink alone, only with at least one other warrior- so that even the poorest warriors can be well fed and help during battles or fights; we cannot drink alcohol or take any drug: we need to be at all times alert and ready to spring into action to rescue our cattle or protect our community; we incur in fines for the whole age group if any of us is disrespectful to an elder, or we mistreat animals, or any other bad behaviour. We have to help every member of the community when their cattle is lost. We have to take our families’ cows to greener pastures during the dry season- this often means spending 3-4 months in the bush, far from home and from any village. But in the wet season, when the cattle is at home and the young boys can look after it, we spend our days resting and going to the many ceremonies that happen in the community- circumcisions, weddings, graduations. We dance and sing, and jump of course.
After about 15-20 years from when the age group is formed, a new set of warriors starts to form, our age group is closed and we graduate to junior elders. We pass the symbol of our power to the next generation, and start learning the skills of the elders. Life becomes easier, we can spend more time at home with our family, but we often look back with nostalgia to our days as warriors.