Paul Spencer’s “Becoming Maasai, Being in Time”

This chapter was quite difficult for me to get my head around with so many processes and layers in the Maasai. The journey to becoming an elder is not as clear cut as the chapter initially sets out with the transitions being from herdboys, to bachelor murran and finally married elders. As you read on there are different processes, different paths to take and differences in ritual within the many tribal sections.

The main focus of the chapter is the male transition in society and their path to becoming an elder. It seems like quite a long and tenuous journey where they continually have to prove themselves. It is ultimately a gerontocratic model with the elders holding political power and controlling the murrans in their physical prime.

It is interesting to note that although throughout the chapter Spencer describes ritual and rites of passage among the Maasai, there are some that do not take the path that is laid out for them. These ‘wastrels’ do not behave like the Maasai, they are “the wind of God”, unpredictable. Spencer doesn’t go into detail about them because he lacks data on them so it would be interesting to find out more about the path they choose.


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