Paul Spencer, “Becoming Maasai, Being in Time”.

In “Becoming Maasai, Being in Time”, Spencer emphasises the strict and rigid stages one must go through in order to be a part of the Maasai and the importance that time plays in these stages. The image of a Maasai is one that is achieved through defined rituals and is passed on through generations to ensure the Maasai community lives on.


I found the article quite difficult to follow, especially when Spencer was explaining about men becoming Maasai, likening the prolonged stage of adolescence (which extends into their twenties) in the Maasai society, the Murranhood, to a barber’s pole and stressing the difference between age-sets and age grades. For a man, becoming a Maasai is a process, which involves many stages but a certain importance is placed on the Murranhood as the pinnacle of being a Maasai man. It is in Murranhood that a man is at his physical peak and can dress his most lavish; the elders look upon this stage both with fondness and jealousy. With regards to the ceremonies the men must go through, Spencer seems to regard these as more of a formality as they often result in conflict and less people turn up to spectate than expected. Though these rituals and ceremonies are important for all Maasai in all areas – the northern Massai, the Keekonyokie, begin the inauguration of new Murrans and no other tribes of Maasai can begin their inaugurations until the Keekonyokie have done so.  The synchronisation of rituals across the Maasai, unites them as one people across all tribes and areas. Once a man “graduates” from his Murranhood into being an elder his power which is regarded as physical during his extended adolescence is transferred into political power, and the elders are expected to live a more inconspicuous, less-lavish lifestyle.


Women, much like the rest of Maasai society, look fondly upon the Murran, and assume their role as spectators of this time period. Women are involved in Murranhood as girls who dance as part of the ceremonies, lovers to the Murran and as mothers who look proudly upon their Murran boys. The main function of a woman in Maasai society is to continue the existence of the community through child birth of more “to be” Maasai, if she is unable to do this, she is thought less of as a woman and less of as a member of the Maasai.


The Maasai is such a tight-knit community with such stringent rules as to what determines a member of the Maasai, nevertheless it is possible to integrate into the society as an outsider. As long as the outsider builds up his own herd, marries a Maasai woman and lives as a Maasai member, he will only be partially assimilated into the community, though it is possible for his children to be thought of a fully Maasai provided they live among Maasai and go through the appropriate stages in life in order to become fully assimilated. I found it very interesting to learn that it was possible for an outsider to become Maasai, I assumed with such rigid rules on what makes a Maasai, it would be extremely difficult for an outsider to assimilate. 


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