Being Maasai

Basically for the Maasai the age definition (age-grades and age-sets) is a key part of their society especially in the way that it is structured and how people in the society interact with one another.

I find it interesting that even though the Maasai are very spread out and there are lots of sub sections that are dotted around the country they still have the same basic structure for these age definitions. It shows that even though they are not always in contact all of them have chosen to keep to traditional ways and they do not see the need to change things.

It makes me wonder why the UK doesn’t have structures like this, or in fact why many other countries do not. I knew the aging process was important to the Maasai but I did not realize quite how much their age-sets restrict or rather defines their life style. But could the Western version of an age-set (possibly) be a generation? Obviously generations are very big and are not subject to the same rules or restrictions as a Maasai age-set but it is a way that people try to group and label people in society. For example, even though I may not go to the same school or university as someone else can roughly sympathize with them through my own knowledge of what it is like to go through 2nd year or A-Levels.

I found it interesting that they value age and link it to being wise and also closer to god. This reminds me of the whole idea of ‘respecting your elders’ which is also seen in the UK. The Maasai really enforce this idea, but I think that the whole idea of respecting your elders has changed in the UK but it does show some similarities between two otherwise very different cultures. For the Maasai however, they take it further with the belief that the older you get the closer you get to god and the wiser and more powerful you are.

In a way, restricting and holding back the power from youth could be seen as the older age-set scared of losing power but it could also be seen as ensuring the younger age-set is fully matured. It is mentioned how the older age-set slanders against the younger age-set about how they fear their stupidity, so perhaps they are just delaying handing over power to ensure that when the younger age-set does receive it they are responsible enough to have it? Perhaps it is not out of selfish want but rather concern for their society that they do this? Obviously the title of Maasai is something to be proud of and they feel like people need to earn the title and make sure that they have enough courage and good character to deserve it. Shows obvious pride in their culture and no expectation or desire to change in accordance with how life has become more modern. Training for this starts young as the responsibilities of being an adult are reinforced when they have to look after their herd of cows.

It is odd that the society itself has a rather, what I see as, negative attitude towards the ceremonies. Since Spencer says that some people do not even turn up and just complain the whole way through the ceremony it makes me wonder if they take the ceremonies seriously at all? If they realize that the older age-set is just messing up on purpose do people still participate with enthusiasm or do they just reluctantly come along because it is expected of them?

Sorcery is used as the ultimate warning for their culture. A sorcerer can often be characterized as a ‘Godless inversion of the Maasai ideal’ (: 152) and embodies every bad characteristic that a Maasai tries to not be and fears. Spencer likens a sorcerer to an isolated elder – something else which would cause tension in the Maasai and would give the younger age-set something to use against the older age-set if refused from progressing. 


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