Friday 15 May 2009

Becoming a Maasai

I am considering my Africa travel plans for the rest of the year. Maasai Juma wants to take me back to his village for my "initiation". It will be a real treat even if certain aspects are a bit daunting.

I feel very privileged. Juma's father has already given me a cow as a sort of "herd starter pack". He has even asked if I want male or female. Juma tells me cattle are very cheap at the moment so I could build up my herd quite cheaply. He reminds me as well that the current going rate for a wife is 22 cows. Juma's father has also set aside a plot where I can build my hut.

Juma is keen that we drink blood together so that we become proper Maasai brothers. I think I can cope with that. I am imagining it will be warm and slightly frothy straight from the cow's neck. I shall pretend it's a strange herbal tea concoction. I don't like the idea of it cold and semi-congealed so I shall be quick.

The ritual area that does concern me is circumcision. Maasai boys and young men are circumcised in batches somewhere between early teens and early twenties. It is a crucial rite of passage on the way to becoming proper warriors. The circumcision is fairly public, done without any anaesthetic and with ritual rather than surgical instruments. Most importantly the circumcisee must not cry out -- to do so would be most unwarriorly and condemns the squealer to a lifetime of humiliation. Juma had his at twelve or thirteen (African are never very sure about their age). He spent the preceding months cutting and stabbing himself with anything that came to hand to practise the steely nonchalance of manhood. I am not sure I could do so well. I just have to hope that the old, fat msungu* is considered exempt.


* Swahili: Msungu = white person

No comments:

Post a Comment