|3104 Tanzania - Young maasai milking a cow|
Posted on 26.10.2014, 22.01.2016, 03.07.2016, 01.07.2017
The Maasai are a Nilotic ethnic group of semi-nomadic people, pastoralists, inhabiting southern Kenya (840,000) and northern Tanzania (800,000), i.e. the African Great Lakes region. They originated from the lower Nile valley and began migrating south around the 15th century. Their territory reached its largest size in the mid-19th century, and covered almost all of the Great Rift Valley and adjacent lands. Followed a period of epidemics and drought (1883-1902), then the British evicted them from the fertile lands between Meru and Kilimanjaro, and most of the fertile highlands near Ngorongoro, to make room for ranches.
|2647 Tanzania - Maasai men|
As with the Bantu, and the Nilotes in Eastern Africa, the Maasai have adopted many customs and practices from the neighboring Cushitic groups, including the age set system of social organization, circumcision, and vocabulary terms. They are herdsmen, and had a fearsome reputation as warriors and cattle-rustlers. The raiders used spears and shields, but were most feared for throwing clubs (orinka) which could be accurately thrown from up to 100m. In modern time they have resisted the urging of the Tanzanian and Kenyan governments to adopt a more sedentary lifestyle.
|1318 Kenya - Maasai morans|
The Maasai are monotheistic, worshipping a single deity called Enkai or Engai, who has a dual nature: Engai Narok (Black God) is benevolent, and Engai Nanyokie (Red God) is vengeful. The end of life is virtually without ceremony, and the dead are left out for scavengers. A corpse rejected by hyenas is seen as having something wrong with it. The Maasai lifestyle centres around their cattle which constitute their primary source of food. They eat the meat, drink the milk and on occasion, drink the blood. The measure of a man's wealth is in terms of cattle and children.
|2232 Tanzania - Maasai dancers|
Maasai society is strongly patriarchal, with elder men deciding most major matters. A full body of oral law covers many aspects of behavior. The men are born and raised to be warriors, and the central unit of the society is the age-set. Every 15 years or so, a new generation of Morans or Il-murran (warriors), formed boys between 12 and 25, will be initiated. One rite of passage to the status of junior warrior is a painful circumcision (emorata) ceremony. The healing process will take 3-4 months, during which urination is painful and nearly impossible at times, and boys must remain in black clothes for a period of 4-8 months.
The junior warriors live together in a circle of huts built by their mothers (manyatta), until they have passed on to senior warrior status and are allowed to start families. This period generally last between 5-7 years, although 8-12 years is not uncommon. Effectively a military garrison, in the manyatta they learn the arts of survival, cattle raiding and warfare (Eng Kipaata), although nowadays this period is more symbolic than practical. In the past a moran could be expected to prove his manhood by killing a lion armed with nothing more than a spear (olamayio).
The males have the heads shaved at the passage from one stage of life to another, warriors being the only who wear long hair. Two days before the circumcision, their heads are shaved. The young warriors then allow their hair to grow, and spend a great deal of time styling the hair. It is dressed with animal fat and ocher, and parted across the top of the head at ear level. Hair is then plaited: parted into small sections which are divided into two and twisted, first separately then together. Cotton or wool threads may be used to lengthen hair. The plaited hair may hang loose or be gathered together and bound with leather.
Warriors who were deemed particularly brave (by killing a lion, or by proving themselves in war), had the right to wear a elaborate headdress made from a lion's mane. Others wore ostrich feathers as symbols of their courage. When warriors go through the Eunoto, and become elders, their long plaited hair is shaved off. Eunoto, the coming of age ceremony of the warrior, can involve ten or more days of singing, dancing and ritual. The warriors of the Il-Oodokilani perform a kind of march-past as well as the adumu, or aigus, sometimes referred as "the jumping dance" by non-Maasai.
A circle is formed by the warriors, and one or two at a time will enter the center to begin jumping while maintaining a narrow posture, never letting their heels touch the ground. Members of the group may raise the pitch of their voices based on the height of the jump. The girlfriends of the moran (intoyie) parade themselves in their most spectacular costumes as part of the eunoto. The mothers of the moran sing and dance in tribute to the courage and daring of their sons.
The houses (inkajijik) are either star-shaped or circular, and are built on a framework of timber, interwoven with a lattice of branches, plastered with a mix of mud, grass, cow dung, human urine, and ash. Villages are enclosed in a circular fence (enkang), usually of thorned acacia. Clothing (matavuvale) varies by age and location. They began to replace animal-skin with commercial cotton cloth in the 1960s. Shúkà is the Maa word for sheets traditionally worn wrapped around the body. The fabric is rubbed with color or dye to make it red, becoming a sort of camouflage with the red dirt of that part of Africa.
One piece garments known as kanga, a Swahili term, are also common. Maasai near the coast may wear kikoi, a type of sarong. Many Maasai wear simple sandals. Both men and women wear wooden bracelets. The women regularly weave and bead jewellery. This beadwork plays an essential part in the ornamentation of their body. The piercing and stretching of earlobes is also common, as well the removal of deciduous canine tooth buds in early childhood. Head shaving is practiced at many rites of passage, warriors being the only members of the community to wear long hair, which they weave in thinly braided strands.
About the stamps
On the postcard 1318
The stamp is part of a series of plants, issued on February 28, 2001:
• Pyrethrum / Chrysanthemum cinerariifolium (20 KES)
• Peanut / Arachis hypogaea (30 KES)
• Coconut / Cocos nucifera (35 KES) - It's on the postcard 1318
• Sisal / Agave sisalana (40 KES)
• Cashew nut / Anacardium occidentale (50 KES)
• Tea / Camellia sinensis (60 KES)
• Coffee / Coffea Arabica (100 KES)
On the postcard 2232
The first stamp is part of the series Wild Animals of Tanzania, issued on 31.08.2009. The second is part of the series Material Culture, issued on March 15, 2012.
On the postcard 2647
The stamp is part of the large series Ceremonial Costumes of Tanzania, issued on November 30, 2013.
On the postcard 3104
The stamp is part of the series Tourist Attractions, about which I wrote here.
Maasai - Wikipedia
Maasai - Age-sets - bluegecko.org
Maasai Warriors - Maasai Intellectual Property Initiative
Sender 1318: Mary Munyua
Sent from Nakuru (Kenya), on 31.07.2014
Photo: P. Kirul
Sender 2232: Charity Haule Kasusa (direct swap)
Sent from Dar Es Salaam (Dar Es Salaam / Tanzania), on 15.12.2015
Sender 2647: Haley
Sent from Dar Es Salaam (Dar Es Salaam / Tanzania), on 17.12.2015
Sender 3104: Ahmed Abbas Maswood
Sent from Moshi (Kilimanjaro / Tanzania), on 27.04.2017
Photo: Javed Jafferji