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Growing up Maasai traditional in East Africa

We live in interesting times, turbulent times, chaotic times, heart searching times. These are times when we don’t want the African of our fore parents forgotten; yet we also want the Africa of our grandchildren realized, as well as living meaningfully in our own times.

So, we are like a strange beast with three heads one look perpetually behind, one looks steadily under our feet, and the third is poised to the heavens, dreamily.

My cultural and intellectual antagonists, Okot p’Bitek, defines ‘culture’ as a way of life’. But that is too general. Can’t we say, ‘Culture is a way of life as lived by a people’? And why don’t we add another bit of information, and say, ‘Culture is a way of life as lived by a people at a particular moment in history’? For, you see, this definition fixes culture intime just as ‘a people’ also indicates an entity in a geographical or spatial sense, But the definition is still far from complete. So, let’s add more to it: ‘Culture is a way of life as lived by a people at a particular moment in history in response to social, political and economic challenges.

The Maasai, properly called the Ilmaasae, are warlike, nomadic people of Hamitic origin. Prior to the arrival of the white man, the Maasai roamed the vast plains of East Africa grazing their large and treasured herds of cattle on the rich pasture abounding on the virgin grasslands. Today, however, the descendants of these illustrious warriors of the pre-colonial era live in a greatly reduced land area occupying the northern parts of Tanzania and the Southern parts of Kenya, their age-old rich traditions and customs little affected by the tumultuous and ever-changing outside world. This is not to say that the Maasai have not responded to modern education. Far from it. They have responded to it and the fruits have been the enrichment of their culture, in as much as a great deal is now preserved for posterity in written form.

Maasai tales center mainly on prowess in war; accumulation of wealth (cattle) through individual undertakings of great bravery and genius; excellence in traditional dancing; beauty and love. Of less significance are tales about greed and selfishness, and general tales about animals and monsters. Tales are by tradition told at bedtime to children between the ages of four and fifteen. The narrators are usually grandfathers or grandmothers, especially the latter. In view of this it is not surprising that the houses of old couples have long symbolized the fountain of knowledge for young children. Their young minds are for the first time exposed to the mysteries of life by their gray-haired tutors. At such a tender age children come to learn of the exploits of their peoples symbolized by the deeds of brave warriors of the past.

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