Paul Spencer: ‘Becoming Maasai, Being In Time’

This article was interesting as it brought out how the contradictions present in being Maasai and Maasai individuals moving through the age grades, actually holds Maasai society together and reinforces their strong identity as a group.

Being a murran, through the elaborate ceremonies that mark this transition, and the conspicuous adornments that murran wear, is to be very visibly Maasai. However it is not them that hold actual power in the society, meaning that their power is conspicuous, but ‘superficial’ (:143). I thought this was interesting as in Anthropology last year we read David Graeber who talked about the display of wealth, through elaborate clothes and jewellery hinting at hidden power.  In the case of the murran, this power belongs to the elders, who can delay marriage and organise the big ceremonies. This keeps a balance between the different age-sets.

Although murran transgress ideals of behaviour through their wild lifestyle, the ceremonies that turn herdboys into murran and murran into elders make murran the focal point of society, are to a great extent the social glue. The experience of a huge group ceremony, rare for people living in scattered and remote villages, is the source of the Maasai cosmology that puts togetherness and community at the heart of knowing God. This means that elders who are seen as isolated and focused on only building up their own wealth and families are regarded with suspicion and even associated with sorcery. This helps hold society together by praising communal activity, and discarding differentiation by wealth and family. This ensures the rotation of power as different age groups move into the post-murran, ‘elder’ age set which holds power. Age is the priority, not other sources of power.

The apparent exclusion of women from this process of becoming a Maasai actually upholds the system further. Since they can never ‘become’ Maasai in the sense of entering murranhood, their power is in mocking men when they fall short of Maasai standards. Through this, and bearing the children or future age sets, they actually reinforce the rules and expectations of Maasai society.

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