The Maasai Culture And Ecological Adaptations

3471 words - 14 pages

The Rift Valley in East Africa has been the home of pastoralists for over three thousand years. A number of different tribes migrated to Kenya, grouped by language they include the Cushites derived from Southern Ethiopia, the Nilotes, which include the Maasai, from Southern Sudan, and the Bantu. The Maa speaking people are the group from which the Maasai originated; their expansion southward into the Great Rift Valley began about 400 years ago. The second stage of Maasai expansion involved the emergence of a central Maasai alliance as well as the expansion and differentiation out of the Central Rift Valley. There are numerous Maasai tribes, and we will be primarily discussing the Arusha and Central Maasai.

Environmental Aspects
The Maasai live throughout north central Tanzania and southern Kenya. Kenya Maasailand is presently located near the coast in the Narok and Kajiado districts. The territory in 1981 measured approximately 39,476 square kilometers. Details on the environment in this area are necessary in order to understand the Maasai people who depend upon it for their survival. The region is typical of arid and semi-arid lands. The Maasailand area has an extremely low amount of surface water, and shallow alkaline soils which proves to be a difficult problem for their cattle-raising practices, and the main reason why they have adapted pastoralism rather than agriculture. The amount of rainfall varies greatly (usually less than 500 mm a year) , with occasional violent storms erupting. The location of the rain may be very specific, effecting a very small area without touching a nearby location. The amount of rainfall fluctuates every year and droughts are frequent. The Maasai have adapted to their living conditions through their interactions with their environment to ensure survival and the maintenance of their culture.

Religion and Ceremonies
The Maasai have adapted to the conditions of their environmental through their religious rituals which function in perpetuating their political structure based on age-sets, and reducing cattle population numbers. The idea of religion in the Maasai culture is bound with the importance they place on the stages of life. Spear indicates that for the Maasai, God is close yet completely unknowable. Each ritual transition between age-sets and age-groups is a step toward old age and metaphorically a step toward God. The critical event in the ceremony is the sharing of meat which brings all participants closer to God. Diviners, or prophets, provide a number of important religious services. They are responsible for divining and healing sickness, providing protective medicines for the initiation of age-sets, and approving the conduct of raids by the warriors. Thus, the rituals and ceremonies in which the Maasai participate give added importance to the pastoral lives they lead. With every ceremony that celebrates the evolution of an age-set into a more distinguished age-set, the added...

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