Beads of CHANGE and CULTURE

 

A gust of wind blows across the plains of Oltepesi in Narok; it starts out slow but soon gathers speed. It whistles as it runs between rocks, valleys and over streams. It rises from the lowest of valleys to the heights of the Loita hills, stirring up everything, picking dust and all manner of objects as it moves along. The wind makes everything sing, even the thickest of the acacia trees seem to bow to the will of change. Such is the nature of the wind of change; it starts and stops in its own timing and will, not even the gods can fight necessity on this, for change is necessity.

Across the plains, on a clearing not far from the Maasai homesteads is a group of Maasai Morans, engaged in the Adum; the ritualistic jumping of the Maasai marking the entry of young boys into adulthood; warriors ready to protect the tribe and way of life of the Maasai. A strange force definitely propels the men into the air; it is a sight to behold and the girls can’t help but fall prey to the rhythm of the men. The men form a circle into which one or two Morans enter at a time, the highest jumps are graced by a deeper and louder hum; it is more of a lion roar than a human hum. Everything about the ritual is strange; it engages the men in a sacred doctrine, a doctrine that embodies everything that is perfect about being African; fierce, proud and the grace of the depths of culture.

Among this group of men is Miterienanka, a handsome and elegantly tall man that seems to steal the show; jumping higher than any other Moran, his noble savage looks intoxicate the girls even further.

2321f08e-0fef-c66c-1aa7-c5788c538213-FB_WorldLens0601_KenyanStudentsPerformMaasaiSong1.jpgHe adores the best beading and his hair is neatly plaited; he is spoilt of choice, every girl is held in his innate language of love, lust and admiration. He seems to consume most if not all the girls in desire, desire for what they cannot have, for desire is kept alive by what one cannot have and they wanted him all to themselves; to keep, cook for, be protected and loved. Such is the strange effect of the Maasai Casanova.

Unlike other Maasai warriors, Miterienanka had decided to chart a different course for himself. His father; a respected elder, had read the change of winds in the sky and had decided to send him to school, he was now a final year college student at Kaimosi Teachers Training College. This is the new reality of Africa; he decided to fight with a pen and not with a spear. Everything about him is different; he expresses what every Kenyan young man feels; the need and expectation of a better life. He was out to look for a wife just like every other Moran, but even this was different for him. Miterienanka wanted a girl, a wife just as educated as he was, uncut yet still true to the ways of the people; this is the necessary change that had to come.

All across Africa, change is evident, it is everywhere, daring those that have eyes, to look or be run over by the wheel of globalization. The Maasai traditionally practiced female circumcision and wife sharing but the spread of HIV and the change of time has forced them stop the two cultures. Professor Wangari Maathai; the 2004 Nobel peace prize laureate described culture as coded wisdom that has been accumulated for thousands of years and generations. Some of that wisdom is coded in ceremonies, in our values, songs and dance. The two cultural traditions must once have held wisdom but they no longer do.

The traditional Manyattas are now being replaced by modern tin roofed brick buildings. The government’s pledge of rural electrification now means that light is a switch away and their children can read into the night.

Female circumcision is unlawful in Kenya; some communities however still practice it. The wind of change has had a different effect on Female Genital Mutilation; the cow hide on which the initiates lay has now been replaced by a plastic sheet, they now use disposable blades and gloves. Even the practice has had to be revamped; they now make symbolic incisions instead of removing the clitoris. This is the justification of the wind.

A people who were once the fierce lion hunters are now trading lions for pride. They are now at the fore front in the fight against poaching.

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When you visit the Maasai Mara national park you are bound to see them moving unperturbed by the lions. The lions actually run away, the red and black shukas tell it all, the colors are a representation of their traditional God, a deity that manifested himself in two forms, the Black god who was benevolent and the Red god who was vengeful; even the lions know this and the sight of a Maasai is enough to make a pride take off. Theirs is a calling, they are African knights dubbed into knighthood by their way of life and the wisdom of nature. The Maasai don’t think of the great plains of Africa as wild, only a mind with a vision obstructed by the city’s concrete jungle regards nature to be wild.

~Antony Mwangi

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