THE ORNGESHERR MAASAI CER­E­MONY

It is dusk and the sun is slowly set­ting, but you can still clearly see the peaks of Mt.Kil­i­man­jaro. It has been a sunny day and I have been trav­el­ling by bike to get to the emany­atta where the Orngesherr (Maasai age-mate cer­e­mony) will be held. It's in t

Nomad Africa Magazine - - Gallivant | Lagos, Nigeria - Words: CHRIS­TINE SIA­MANTA KINORI

it was a scenic jour­ney, but only a bike can man­age to get through the nar­row mur­ram roads. It’s lit­er­ally a con­nec­tion of nar­row roads in the mid­dle of nowhere. On our way, we were lucky enough to spot an ele­phant's foot­print. The Maasai in this re­gion are known for liv­ing peace­fully with the wild an­i­mals.

This is a highly an­tic­i­pated cer­e­mony in the life of a Maasai man. It is per­formed to mark the re­tire­ment from moranism to el­der­hood in the Maasai com­mu­nity. To­day’s fes­ti­val is in hon­our of the Ilkiponi age set. It is a cer­e­mony where one is now con­sid­ered grown enough to be able to make im­por­tant de­ci­sion as a wise man in the fam­ily. The age set is an in­te­gral struc­ture in the African com­mu­nity. In the Maasai com­mu­nity, it is the cen­tral unit of the so­ci­ety. It is only rel­e­vant to the men since women don’t have their own age set and are only recog­nised by their hus­bands' age-set. I can feel the ex­cite­ment from the peo­ple as they move around do­ing dif­fer­ent prepa­ra­tions. Wa­ter is be­ing fetched from the river , knives are be­ing sharp­ened. The chil­dren are run­ning up and down do­ing er­rands they have been or­dered to do. The men in the age set seem more thrilled than the rest. They have been wait­ing for this cel­e­bra­tion for twenty two years. In this cer­e­mony, they get a new sta­tus in the com­mu­nity, they will be­come ju­nior el­ders. It is their fi­nal ini­ti­a­tion phase and they shall be wel­comed into a new re­spected po­si­tion in the so­ci­ety.

Twenty two years ago, they had a cer­e­mony that ush­ered them from boy­hood to man­hood. In that cer­e­mony, they were ush­ered into moranism. They be­come war­riors of the tribe. They twisted and dyed their hair red.The cer­e­mony usu­ally hap­pens after cir­cum­ci­sion. They were not al­lowed to eat alone or take any fatty meals. They most es­pe­cially were not to eat any food cooked by their moth­ers. They moved to a new boma (home­stead) and be­gan their war­rior train­ing and have never looked back.

The moranism era has phases, which are cel­e­brated at dif­fer­ent in­ter­vals. The first is called Eunoto. It is nor­mally done ten years into war­rior­hood. In this cer­e­mony, the morans are still not al­lowed to eat by them­selves. It is im­por­tant to note that their heads should be shaved by their moth­ers. They have to shave the long red dyed dreads that they have kept for ten years. Be­fore this cer­e­mony the morans are sup­posed to chose three lead­ers. One is the Olaigua­nani lenkashe, Oloboru en­keene and Olo­tuno (the ini­ti­ate one). No­body wishes to be one of these lead­ers, es­pe­cially the Olo­tuno. He shoul­ders all of his age set's bad and good deeds.

The Olaigua­nani lenkashe is hon­oured with a spe­cially cho­sen fe­male cow; Oloboru en­keene is hon­oured with a leather strap with a knot that sym­bol­ises his age set. By the end of war­rior­hood, this knot will be un­tied to free the war­riors. After this cer­e­mony, the se­nior

morans are al­lowed to marry. Dur­ing the cer­e­mony, war­riors are not al­lowed to carry weapons such as sticks, spears, knifes, etc.

The sec­ond one is Eukoto or the Enkang e-kule .In this cer­e­mony, the morans are fi­nally blessed and al­lowed to eat alone with­out the com­pany of other morans, but they are not al­lowed to eat any fatty foods. This cer­e­mony needs the en­tire age set to shave their red ochre stained hair. It is the mother's role to shave her grad­u­at­ing son. No war­rior will shave his hair be­fore his highly re­spected age set chiefs. Many of them pre­fer to grad­u­ate on the same day as their chiefs. For the first time, war­riors feel awkward and shame­ful to eat in front of their fe­male lovers.

The third one is the Enkang oo-nkiri (meat cer­e­mony/ini­ti­a­tion camp), the meat cer­e­mony per­mits war­riors to eat by them­selves meat pre­pared by women of the home­stead. At the end of the meat cer­e­mony, men and women fight against one an­other for the spe­cially roasted meat. War­riors who vi­o­lated their age set taboos and laws are pun­ished be­fore this event takes place.

The last cer­e­mony is the Orngesherr. It is presided by el­ders who are kinly iden­ti­fied.They bless and wel­come the new age-set to the el­der­ship. It is more like they are em­brac­ing the cy­cle of life. I ar­rived at the mo­ment when the morans from the Ilkiponi age set are be­ing shaved. It is cus­tom­ary that they at­tend the cer­e­mony to­mor­row with a smooth clean shaved head. Half of their head is be­ing

I ar­rived at the mo­ment when the morans from the Ilkiponi age set are be­ing shaved. It is cus­tom­ary that they at­tend the cer­e­mony to­mor­row with a smooth clean shaved head. Half of their head is be­ing shaved by their moth­ers, while the other half is shaved by their wives, us­ing a ra­zor. If a man has more than one wife, it is the job of the first wife to shave him.

shaved by their moth­ers, while the other half is shaved by their wives, us­ing a ra­zor. If a man has more than one wife, it is the job of the first wife to shave him.

After the shav­ing, the women are asked to leave. The women are not al­lowed to be there the night be­fore the cer­e­mony. As I walk away, I can see a huge brown bull at one of the cow­shed in the many­atta. I am told that is the bull that the Ilkiponi age set mem­bers will eat to­mor­row dur­ing the cel­e­bra­tion. It has been care­fully se­lected and has been checked over and over again to make sure it is with­out blem­ish. The bull must al­ways be brown in colour and must have no blem­ish. It shall be shared only among the morans grad­u­at­ing to el­der­ship.

I can hear the morans singing and danc­ing to tra­di­tional songs through­out the night. They are singing to the bull. It is im­per­a­tive to sing to the bull so that it will not be wild. Just be­fore sun­rise they make the bull drink olamira/enaisho-ool­momo (tra­di­tional beer) and lull it to sleep. The bull must sleep on its right side. Once it sleeps, it is suf­fo­cated to death by a sisal rope. They never slaugh­ter the bull by knife.

Once it is dead, the morans skin it and roast all the meat. They are not al­lowed to use a match­box to light the fire, there­fore they have to re­sort to tra­di­tional means.

The cer­e­mony has now started, the com­mu­nity is now al­lowed to come and be

there to cel­e­brate the morans. They are dressed in the tra­di­tional Maasai at­tire. On their waist, the tra­di­tional Maasai sword hangs from their Maasai beaded leather belt. On their arms, they have beau­ti­ful and colour­ful Maasai beaded bracelets. On their necks, they are en­dowed in Maasai beaded neck­laces. On their hands, they carry the tra­di­tional Maasai rungu ( a wooden club). The morans sit and bow their heads down as the ilk­ishumu (Maasai tra­di­tional el­ders) bless them by pour­ing blood from the bull on them. They ut­ter tra­di­tional bless­ings in low voices and the com­mu­nity re­sponds back .

The Ilkiponi morans make a queue with their wives be­sides them. They will get into a se­cluded many­atta at the far­thest end of the boma where the el­ders will be wait­ing to see them one by one.

In­side the many­atta, three el­ders sit, In front of them lies a dry clean cow hide piled with lots of roasted meat pieces. The Mo­ran is asked, if he has ob­served all the guide­lines of the Mo­ran’s. If his answer is yes, then his wife picks two pieces of meat and serves her hus­band. If the answer is no, then the Mo­ran picks the piece of meat by him­self. They are then blessed again by the three el­ders and sent on their way.

It's im­por­tant to note that a wife must prove to her hus­band that she hasn't en­gaged in an il­licit sex­ual af­fair with a man of the younger age set. It is al­lowed for a wife to have af­fairs with men of the same age set, but not out­side the age set. It is a taboo to be es­corted by such a wife. In­case the wife has been un­faith­ful, she is re­quired to of­fer a fe­male cow to her hus­band as a sign of atone­ment. No man will refuse such an apol­ogy; how­ever, the man can choose not keep the cow and can give it to his friend as a gift.

After ev­ery Mo­ran has been to the hut to see the ilk­ishumu, the age set is now con­sid­ered of­fi­cially ju­nior el­ders. The cel­e­bra­tion car­ries on, presents are ex­changed. The new ju­nior el­ders are of­fered an el­ders chair. This chair be­comes a man's friend un­til it is bro­ken. If a man dies be­fore the chair breaks, his older son will adopt the chair. After this cel­e­bra­tion, a man would be­come an elder and would as­sume full re­spon­si­bil­ity of his own fam­ily. He is now al­lowed to move away from his fa­ther's home­stead and form his own home­stead. Nev­er­the­less, even though the man is now an in­de­pen­dent man, he would still have to de­pend on his fa­ther's ad­vice. A man would take on full re­spon­si­bil­ity of his fam­ily at the age of about 35 years.

Meat is shared and ev­ery­one gets to join in the cel­e­bra­tions. Songs are sung and peo­ple dance. They also share and en­joy the tra­di­tional Maasai to­bacco nor­mally taken by the el­ders.

I have got to tell you it was amaz­ing to see how high the Maasai morans jump as they dance to their tra­di­tional songs. It should also be a true work of art how the Maasai ladies shake their heads and their be­jew­elled necks. It's def­i­nitely cul­tural her­itage at its best, es­pe­cially since most of the African com­mu­ni­ties are aban­don­ing their tra­di­tional way of life.

Above: After the shav­ing, the women are asked to leave. The women are not al­lowed to be there the night be­fore the cer­e­mony.

Above: They never slaugh­ter the bull by knife. Once it is dead, the morans skin it and roast all the meat. They are not al­lowed to use a match­box to light the fire, there­fore they have to re­sort to tra­di­tional means.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.