Maasai culture diminishing as majority try to cope with Covid-19 rules

A Maasai elder grazing his herd of cattle.

Kenya’s Maasai community is slowly adapting to the new way of living as dictated by Covid-19 pandemic as the future of their ancient ways continue to diminish.

Joseph Ole Mpatai, an elder from the pastoral Maasai community at the shadow of Chyullu ranges in Iltilal village, Loitoktok, Kajado County confirms that even though the majority of the people are trying to cope with the new normal of intermingling in masks, most of their cultural deeds have come to a halt.

“We used to graze together where a large herd of cattle would be collected together from various Manyatta’s and assigned to a number of herders, that has stopped and every homestead does graze independently. At the places of watering animals, it is done in turns and everybody must-have masks,” says Mpatai.

This elder remains optimistic that coronavirus pandemic will be defeated soon since they have been forced by circumstances to alter their ancient customs to reduce the spread of the disease.  

“A period like now we would be preparing for the year’s circumcision exercise but that has been totally disrupted. Age sets would move together and have meals which include milk and meat something that is not happening. We have reduced ourselves to look mean,” said Mpatai

Enmuratare (circumcision) was initially done to boys at the age of 15 but to reduce bullying in schools to uncircumcised boys, it was changed to immediately after sitting for Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE). The preparations kick-off as early as August every year.

That will happen this year but the organizers must scale down participants, and time to be administered in turns while observing social distancing.

Mpatai says that measures taken to limit the spread of Covid-19 have left other rites of passage such as marriages. Ceremonies such as that when a woman gives birth (Eishoi) would in normal times attract a big feast where the child would be named.

“During Eishoi a bull is slaughtered and people would come to celebrate where the baby was kept in the house for 40 days. Such cultural ceremonies have been indefinitely melted since we don’t want to endanger the life of the mother and the kid,” he adds.

The Maasai are rich in revered cultural history which is passed down to generations through stories and tales revolving from precious heirlooms.

Medina Hassan Shora is a mother of three. She says Eishoi is the only way women feel incorporated into a certain family.

“For identity formation and linkage to that family, this ceremony would be used to find ancestral names before naming a child. Nowadays, very few people come and they may not be conversant with the naming process,” Medina says.

With soaring positive cases of Covid-19 in Kajiado County, Medina says not all residents can access clean water, masks, and sanitizers something that has restricted them to one option- just stay at home

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Covid-19 Maasai