July 12, 1987

7/12/87 Nguruman Escarpment

campsite near Entesekera

We left camp early this morning so we wouldn’t miss anything. We arrived as before but this time the girls were left alone. The morani were dressed in short togas, their hair braided and red ocher painted on everything. They all had some beaded jewelry and wooden spears. Everyone was dressed in red except one very energetic little boy dressed in black. It was as if he was the court jester of the tribe. Something about his eyes said he was sick, but the Maasai avoided him as if he was "unclean." There were a lot of morani dancing. They would jump in pairs or alone while the group chanted and bounced along. Then they would stop for a second and one moran would sing a verse.

Two girls watch the festivities

At first I just didn’t feel right about taking pictures. We were told that some people, especially the old, might be offended. Some thought of cameras as "soul stealers" just like the American Indian. But as others took started to take photographs, it was the morani and children who mobbed us. Not to have us take their picture but to take the pictures themselves. After awhile, one of the chiefs started the morani on a procession around the inside of the ceremonial boma circle. In front were about ten morani who had killed lions with spear and sword. You could tell them by their lion mane headdress. Then came about forty morani with shields. These were the most respected and they were their leaders. The procession moved both inside and outside the circle of bomas.

Warriors with lion mane headdress

The bravest forty-nine had their heads shaved the previous night. The procession of some four hundred warriors began the trek down to the river near our camp. There, they were going to paint chalk on their bodies.

Three friends

Maasai travel from all over the border between Kenya and Tanzania. This event happens only once ever nine or ten years, so we were very lucky to witness it at all. The Maasai have even said that because of pressure from the government, this could be the last big eunoto. Because of the "civilizing" of the Kenya, many of the duties of a warrior would cease to be allowed. Lions were to be protected. Cattle stealing and war on neighboring tribes would be illegal. And no matter what, it will loose some of it’s significance.

400 strong leave for their last meal together as warriors

I just don’t think I can convey the intensity of this evening. The morani spent the afternoon down by the river getting painted with white chalk. A cow was slaughtered and cooked. It was to be their last meal together as morani. In the late afternoon the morani started a procession back up to the celebration. They were impressive! Each had different designs painted all over their bodies. They wore only the smallest toga as to expose all the paint. Atop their wooden spears, they had a piece of red cloth, almost like a flag. In the setting red sun, the four hundred strong, flags waving in the breeze, shouted and screamed as they marched.

All watch the morani join the procession

The procession moved inside the ring of bomas and continued in a circle. They stopped and knelt down. As the kudu horn continued to sound, the morani chanted and bobbed their heads. Then, they stood up in unison, spears held horizontal, as if they were lifting a giant ring. During the procession, I saw one moran with red stripe painted on his chest. Duritu explained that told everyone that the warrior had killed a man as a moran.

A few of us had moved toward the center of the circle to get a better view. Then the morani started to run toward a special boma built in the center of the compound. Inside this boma, reserved for the morani who hadn’t broken any of the warrior taboos, were supposed to be gifts, beer, rewards, and even rumored, women. A death curse kept any from entering except the few. They ran around it faster and faster. Then all hell broke loose. The elders started to beat the morani with sticks to chase them away from the boma. Several went into seizures, others walked as if zombies, it was crazy. One moran near me started swinging his spear wildly. Other morani fell to the ground, going into spasms and making wild, scary noises. Somehow my classmates started to regroup and head for the outside of the ceremonial ring of bomas.

Elders took all the spears away from the morani. There was a long and intense discussion between our leaders and the elders. The warriors had asked that the death curse be lifted off of the special boma. Many of the morani taboos do not fit well in "modern" Kenya life for a teenager, especially those attending school. The morani felt they were being punished wrongly because they said that the breaking of the taboos were not their fault. That’s when all the chaos started. We were advised by some of the elders to leave and head for our camp before dark. The morani were being sent out to spend the night in the forest as a punishment. Because our truck wouldn’t hold everyone, several of us had to walk the three kilometers back to camp.

After the bizarre happenings, our adrenaline and imaginations were at a fever high. We weren’t even half way back to camp when it got dark. Even though it was a night of the full moon, it hadn’t risen yet. We walked in pitch dark. Daniel’s brother, Robert, a junior elder, was our guide and some of us felt, our protector. We passed what sounded like a large group of Maasai women and young girls. I kept hearing "wazungu." They laughed a lot and I had the feeling it was at us.

All of a sudden I was walking alongside a moran. It was so dark I couldn’t even see the white shirt of my classmate in front of me. So you could imagine how I felt when the moran appeared. He tried to talk to me but I didn’t understand kimaa. Then he held my hand for a few minutes and then let go. I can’t say I was scared, but pretty nervous. Later when I told the story, the classmate that walked behind me said he never saw a thing.

The trail splint off the main road and we walked along for awhile. As we neared a boma and Robert directed toward it. We climbed over the brush fence and were invited in for chai. The only light inside was provided by the cooking fire. It was very hot inside a somewhat smokey. The Maasai don’t put chimney’s in the roof. Our hosts were a husband and wife, with several children and an infant.

I think because of the culture shock of the celebration, most of the group were apprehensive about accepting our hosts hospitality. Somehow I was one of the few to actually be thankful for a cup of chai. The tea with a little added milk and sugar was hot and sweet. Very relaxing after our exciting evening.

Leaving was another jolt of culture shock. It was still pitch black so I didn’t see the cow I stepped on. The cattle are collected at night within the boma fence to protect against lions. They were packed in so tight, we had to climb over several to get to the fence. All I could think about was getting a horn in the groin. Camp wasn’t very far from here.

I thought the chai at the boma was a good ending to an already packed day. But once we arrived back at camp, we were asked if any of us would be interested in spending the night at Daniel’s boma. Despite everything that had happened tonight, Maria, Mike and I thought it would be great to spend more time in a boma, icing on the cake of our day.