Most famous of the Kenyan tribes the Maasai have had, since the arrival of the first Europeans, a reputation as fearless warriors. They arrived in Kenya from the north west in 1500 A.C. At the end of the 19th century they roamed a territory from Lake Turkana in the north to the Tanzanian plains south to Arusha – a surprisingly large territory for a population of only 50.000. In 1904, weakened by drought and disease, they were moved by the colonial authority to a reserve of 25,000 square kilometres in the south west of the country on the Tanzanian border. The population is now more than 160.000. The name Masaai comes from their language Maa. They are mainly pastoralists with an almost mystical attitude towards their cattle. They follow an age-set system of four grades: junior warrior, senior warrior, junior elder. senior elder.
After circumcision the child becomes a man and enters for a period of twelve to fifteen years into the first grade. The duly of the junior warrior is to protect the “enkang “(village in Maa), the cattle and of course to organize raiding parties on the neighbouring tribes. According to their tradition, Engai their god, created the cattle and gave it all to the Maasai. So nothing is more logic and normal for them than to get what in any case belongs to them from other tribes. The warrior lives outside the village, in kinds of barracks called “manyatta”. The manyatta has its own rule and taboos. During the passage to the next grade the warrior shaves his long hair style and chooses a wife.
Then he goes back to live in the village and takes responsibility for a certain number of animals and the security of the village when the warriors are gone. Fifteen years later when he becomes elder he takes full possession of the cattle he had in charge and becomes engaged in the political and administrative decisions concerning the clan. Traditionally the Maasai don’t have a political leader.
The only one to exercise some kind of authority or more exactly influence, is the “oloiboni” the priest-prophet-soothsayer. The most influential among those was Lenana during the early colonial days. As most herdsmen, their main diet is a mixture of milk and blood. Meat is eaten mainly during special celebrations or when the beast is too old. The hides provide mattresses and bedding. They are also used for ornamental purposes. All conflicts or social bonds such as marriage are paid in live cattle. “I hope your cattle are well” is a common greeting.