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Published: February 14th 2020
After stopping awhile to visit with a group of Maasai villagers near their water wells we drove to another Maasai village just outside the boundaries of Tarangire National Park. But here we were inside their village, among their houses, chatting with the delightful eldest son of the chief, and the chief as well, although he was busy with a friend, both of them thinking and drinking, apparently the main job that males do in the Maasai society. The chief's very short hair was grey, but he didn't know how old he was since only the most recent generations are now required to receive an education at schools; earlier no one had known - or known how to - keep records of births or deaths.
The females in our group spent the morning interacting mostly with the women, holding beautiful babies, watching the little children running around, learning how to create some of their intricate beadwork. Our men stayed with the men, trying to light a fire by rubbing two sticks together to get a spark, sampling the chief's moonshine, and doing I don't know what else as I was busy among the females. Since our invitation was open and we were invited to explore everywhere, at one point I peeked inside one of their houses, circular structures built of mud with thatched roofs. Inside was dark; chickens and small goats were scampering everywhere, plus there was a young girl sitting on the ground, holding a baby. I saw no beds; some Maasai sleep on mats made of cowhide they've prepared and softened; there was a large one on the floor here, so maybe that's where the family slept.
A group of men performed a procession for us, doing a step-hop-step dance as they paraded by, chanting as they went. One man made very low, deep sounds in his throat, very thrilling to hear; it reminded me of the Bushmen in Australia. Then we watched as the men did the obligatory and iconic high jumps Maasai males are so well known for doing. One very small boy walked with the men, imitating - to the best of his abilities - the men's actions. This is societal education in its purest state.
After half an hour or so of becoming familiar with each other we were invited to enter inside the chief's first wife's house. This was much larger than the one I had looked into earlier, but still it was dark inside. The first wife's house had two wide bunk beds where the whole family of eight slept (I could not figure out how they all fit), and low benches where all the children of the village gather after school to do their homework, and to get any help they need. This wife told us that all of the children in this village had passed their exams given after the first seven years of schooling, and all had been admitted into four years of secondary school, a very great and impressive accomplishment! As basic as life here seems - at least what we were told and shown - something is being done right to reach such educational success.
Our group also had an opportunity for a question and answer session which happily turned out to go both ways. First wife (this chief has four wives) said she was happy, that her husband was a good one. Everyone looked to be well fed; no one in this village seemed to need glasses; most of the babies were alert and chubby; the little children run about or follow and imitate what their elders are doing, thus learning their culture. There are no cell phones, no electricity, not much money except for what the women earn by selling their very beautiful beadwork animals, jewelry, and gorgeous little container baskets to visiting groups like ours; there's no fancy anything, and seemingly no stress. Or perhaps they feel different kinds of stressors, but this was not apparent while we were visiting. First wife also asked questions of us as well; Sultan worked as the translator for both sides, fielding some quite intimate and uncomfortable questions. Many of us were curious about why the boys were so old when they were circumcised, having learned that in the Maasai society anywhere between the ages of 13 or 14 and 20, depending on the cycle of when the rite was done, was the answer. I didn't understand the chief's explanation of this timing, but circumcision is only done once every several years, thus the discrepancy among the boys' ages. All the boys in this age range are cut on the same date, so this becomes the most important way of their identifying roughly how old they are and who they are, through bonding with this group. I can't imagine the pain of being circumcised with no anesthesia, but questions were also asked about female circumcision. Thankfully, this is being slowly eliminated among the tribes; it is no longer a requirement of becoming a woman. Males continue to have to endure that part of their lives; once they survive that then it's onto the much longer thinking and drinking stage.
Other questions were asked as well, a majority focussing on physical health. The Maasai use herbs as their main source of healing, their medicines growing in and around their villages. Only in dire circumstances would they go to a doctor or hospital and maybe not even then; just getting somewhere so far away would be a great difficulty. As for mental health, problems in marriages, anything of such a personal nature, they would talk with an elder. First wife wondered what our culture does when those problems arise; she seemed relieved to know that we had counsellors, or religious leaders to guide us. Many human problems seem to be the same the world over; it's just how they are handled that might be different.
Sultan tells us Tanzanians take care of each other, love each other, don't discriminate among their 126 tribes or religions. This Maasai village demonstrated that abundantly. I still have more questions about their lives, but this visit was an intimate learning experience, a beginning. I hope they learned something of us too.
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