Becoming Maasai. Being in time.

An outline of how those born as Maasai come to identify themselves as Maasai. The author focuses on men to begin with, showing how their identity is bound up in time, not just place. They are bound up in time by age sets. There is a time when men are boys, and then they reach the age where they become part of the age set called Murran. This is meant to be characterized by sharing everything as a group, learning loyalty and discipline and basically reaching peer equality. This equality is what gives them confidence in their Maasai identity, and probably helps to continue the culture. The author shows the way men in this age set are able to gain privileges and gain higher qualities is through the rest of society, the elder men, women and younger boys. The whole of a person’s life is learning how to become Maasai. The young boys look up to the privileges of Murranhood as being an identity to aspire to and so start the process of identifying themselves as Maasai. Women, although in one sense dependents on men, could be said to be the gauges of how well men are living up to the ideals of being Maasai, as they can be critical or not of men’s lives. It is the elders who have the power to shape the course of Murran’s lives, by preventing them from marrying early for example. Being an elder means becoming free from the unifying age sets, which means elders sometimes pursue self interests. This is opposite to the Maasai ideal. Those not seen as upholding the Maasai ideal and a threat to the Maasai way of life are accused of sorcery.

It could be said that one of the aims of becoming Maasai, is to eventually lead a person to God. The older a person gets in Maasai culture the more respected they are because of their power. They are seen to be powerful because of their power to bless or curse those younger than them. They are seen to possess attributes that are similar to an all- powerful, all- knowing God. Each ritual step a person takes in their lifetime, is a step towards their ultimate provider and protector, God. The closer they get to God, the more Maasai they become. This is similar to other beliefs, such as Christianity, where the more a person knows God, the more they are said to find their true purpose as humans. It can be said that the higher power of God validates who they are, and so this follows that the rituals and ceremonies Maasai take that lead them to new age sets throughout their life, are not themselves the validation of being Maasai, but rather what is important is the validation from the rest of society in their performance during the ceremonies. The author also points out how important the build up to rituals are and the memories and critiquing of it afterwards rather than the event itself. It is the awareness of the rituals that gives their life course meaning.

Like other religions, and society, it is the constant problem of human nature, why do people do bad things, why is there suffering. It can be said the Maasai deal with this by having their ideal of how society works best. Rituals of Maasai society ensure this ideal is adhered to and continued. I think Maasai do this well in the age set of Murran where the men need to be dependent on each other in order to gain equality and confidence. The author outlines the paradox of how although elders are considered to be becoming most like the Maasai ideal, they are the ones that have the freedom to pursue more self interests, opposite to the Maasai ideal, and to deflect accusations of sorcery can put on a “front” of being ideal Maasai. This made me wonder what being Maasai actually means. The ones that are most Maasai in their actions are the Murran, and yet because of their age are not fully Maasai, and the elders who are closer in terms of age to the Maasai ideal are the ones who can be least Maasai in their actions. This highlights the importance of ritual in creating identity and belonging for people. Even if people do not strictly abide by particular cultural ideals, the fact that rituals exist, and are known, gives people a sense of belonging and a point from which to give them meaning.

 

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