Becoming Maasai

This chapter is based on the processes of becoming a Maasai. We witness a journey. The Maasai boys learn to identify themselves in this system of age-orientation as they become elders. There are 3 noticeable age-grades that I can see; boyhood, murranhood and elders. I find it interesting as this is only relevant to the men and Woman do not belong to age sets but can upgrade an age-set through marriage. Women are seen to be regarded as dependents their whole lives however the text does say that they can have an acknowledgeable status of seniority presumably through marrying up an age-grade. Women mature through their changing relationships with men in their lives from daughters to wives to mothers. They have little control over the society but have such a relevant role to it. They are vital to carrying on the society by providing new children to carry on the Maasai generations. I find it interesting that women are very much on the outskirts of society but also very much central to it.

I also like the idea presented that each ritual transition up the system is “a step towards old age and a metaphorical step towards God”. To Maasai people God is seen to be very close. All of their ceremonies are real occasions where everyone gathers and the ritual element is sacrifice. By making these sacrifices to God the participants are bringing themselves closer to God. They take special measures when making sacrifice to God because they believe in an evil “anti-God” type figure much like the devil is there wanting to destroy this. They are extra careful in these situations as they don’t want their age-system and relationship to God to be ruined. The idea of getting older makes people ‘greater’ and more influential within Maasai society because they are closer to God.  However there is also the point that sometimes becoming an elder swings back around and links closely to boyhood. This was raised in the context that the elders have a relation to boys as they both have a devotion or responsibility of building up the household.  This however could be linked to how the society is viewed as circular in some of the models and the Maasai view that their cycle goes round and round.

This reading was confusing to follow at times. The seemingly straightforward process of moving up age grades changes so that things fall out of the patterns stated at the start of the chapter. We can see the that society moves in a cycle but I can now see more clearly how these cycles could be circular or spiral or like the gerontocratic model because it really does combine an element of all of these things with different age-sets. I also think the discussion at the end about  ‘wastrels’ was interesting as it shows that not everyone always conforms to traditional Maasai ways and is an explanation for people who may fall off the very structured age-orientated path of becoming a Maasai. It was really interesting to read and made me think more about it however I am sure I may have misunderstood what the text was saying at times.


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