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Mixing westernisation with indigenous culture

By - | January 13th 2013 at 00:00:00 GMT +0300

Morans during a rite of passage. [PHOTO: JACOB OTIENO/STANDARD]

By Amos Kareithi

Despite being among the first communities to interact with Europeans, Maasai’s have weathered cultural erosion

Like fish, which is forever immersed in water but never gets wet, the lords of the Rift Valley, the Maasai, have interacted with Western civilisation but retained their cultures.

In one of the paradoxes of modern times, the Maasai whose first interaction with the European dates back more than 100 years, have defied cultural erosion.

Although memories of these interactions have faded away with time as the witnesses succumb to the sands of time, there are muffled echoes of some of the pioneers who literally took westernisation to the Maasai.

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One of the most dramatic tread setters Taki ole Kindi Oloiposioki, is captured in by anecdotes retold by Sironka ole Masharen in his book, The Maasai Pioneers.

Mythical date of birth

Taki was born at a time when date of birth was like a myth to Africans who used moons and seasons to denote passage of time while the length of one’s shadow was used to tell time.

This was the time the entire Maasai community was living as one entity and there was no railway or white highland to divide the Maasai in Laikipia and other parts of the Rift Valley.

Taki’s life changed from the time he came across an American missionary, John Stauffacher who had first come to Kenya in 1904, and proceeded to the African Inland Mission in Kijabe.

From the day he set foot in the country, Stauffacher had a burning desire to evangelise the Maasai.

To achieve this goal, he moved from Kijabe to Olomuruti (today known as Rumuruti) in 1907.

It was here that he encountered Taki and his friend Molonket Olokorinya Sempele. The two men were residing in Laikipia.

What set Taki apart from other Maasai men at the time was the fact that he was a sergeant with Kings African Rifles. His interaction with Stauffacher introduced him to writing and would later learn rudimentary reading and writing.

Unlike other conservative morans, Taki opted out of the army and became a keen follower of the missionary.

When he made this decision, the community was outraged.

“For the Maasai, the idea of a foreign culture was an affront to the accepted way of life,” explains Sironka.

To teach the “wayward” upstarts a lesson, the elders prohibited the two men from marrying within the community.

They had to marry Agikuyu wives and later migrate from Rumuruti to Kijabe in 1918 as they were not wanted at home.

Using his knowledge of Kikuyu from socialisation and given that he was fluent in Maasai language, Taki dedicated his time in translating the Bible into his mother tongue, a feat which earned him the tag of the first African to translate the Holy Book.

Literacy classes

While he was not translating the Bible, he would mobilise boys who were not herding goats or cows to attend some literacy classes.

He was instrumental in educating the first batch of learners in 1923 who included Gashisha, Ndilaiand and his wife Nayioloang, among others.

However, his teaching career was tragically cut shot after he accidentally shot himself with his gun on July 27, 1923.

According to Sironka, on that day, Taki was chasing wild animals from the church’s garden when the gun discharged and killed him instantly.

However, despite the tragedy, Taki’s pioneer work in education continued even after his demise?after two new missionaries Roy and Ruth Shaffer relocated to Loitokitok in 1932. Around that time, the Government had introduced a new policy where children were forced to attend formal school.

The colonial officer in charge of the Southern Maasai Reserve, JW Hemsted made sure this policy was implemented.

However, the nitty-gritty of getting the boys to attend school was left to the District Commissioner, Leslie Edward Whitehouse.

The colonial government’s orders of forceful education trickled down to the chiefs who were instructed by Whitehouse through Kulale who at the time was a chief.

Kulale’s instruction from his superiors was very simple. He was supposed to liaise with the clans of Ilmorelian, Illaiser and Ilaitayioki to produce 15 children each.

“The clans would then pinpoint families to bear the painful burden. Factors such as ethnic purity, poverty and invalidity came into play as the undesirable sons of the clans were dragged to the class,” the author explains.

The colonial government unleashed its messenger in the region, Nashu ole Mushupe, who at times doubled as an administration police officer popularly known as askari kanga to go round the villages yanking off young boys from their traumatised parents.

The most irresistible candidates to Mushupe’s visit were sons suspected or known to have been products of adultery. But as the parents avoided Mushupe’s incursion like plague, the chief Kulale volunteered his third son Balozi and his nephew Metoyi ole Marrinka.

Apparently, the chief who had briefly stayed in Kikuyu land knew the importance of education and wanted to demonstrate to his kinsmen that school was not a death sentence.

All the boys were then gathered in the school in Loitokitok where formal lessons began.

Back at home, some grieving parents tried all sorts of tricks to get their sons back but the colonial government could not be moved.

Witchdoctor consultations

Some went to an extent of consulting witchdoctors to cast spells on the chiefs. Others cooked all manner of excuses but all the 110 boys were at school to stay.

The number of students at Loitokitok swelled after 49 boys formerly schooling at Kajiado were transferred. So after the Government realised it was uneconomical to run two schools where one could do.

Ironically, as the parents fretted at home bemoaning the loss of their sons, at school things were quite different as the boys soon got accustomed to the new life.

Saturdays were special days as the biggest and the strongest boys would be dispatched to the local market to purchase the choicest of bulls.

The price of such a bull then was Sh12 and it would be floored, strangled and slaughtered by the same boys who then delivered the meat to the kitchen staff.

This marked the beginning of a feast, which was held weekly and was much anticipated.

Disciple then was swift and painful. The harshest of treatment was reserved for the unhygienic boys who allowed their feet to host jiggers.

During morning assembly parades, some sadistic teachers were known to jump on the toes infested with jiggers leading to howls of pain.

At one point the punishments became so severe that the boys plotted a major strike to protest the brutality of some of their teachers who loved corporal punishment.

According to Sironka these were the circumstances, which led to the first strike organised in 1937 and led by Francis ole Legis.

The boys, however, never presented their grievances to the Provincial Administration in Narok as they were intercepted and talked out of the strike by elders at Kimana.

At school, the boys were taught religion and at times taught practical lessons such as woodwork and ultimately sat their school leaving Common Entrance Examination after seven years.

It was from this pioneer group that the colonial Government got a pool of teachers who were subjected to vocational training before unleashed to teach other children.

Some of the pioneer teachers included the chief’s son Balozi and ole Marrinka while others such as Metoyi and ole Leinka were trained as clerks.

Their services were in such high demand that immediately after training, the German authorities in Tanganyika sent an appeal to recruit them.

This was how Balozi, Isaya Loolmiaron, Simon Muna and Daniel Melili among others ended up in the Tanganyika civil service.

Their work was to assist the Government in trying to introduce modernity to Maasai in that country who had not yet been initiated into formal schooling.

Shaidi Kisoso who was also dispatched to Tanganyika as an expatriate was credited with starting a series of schools starting at Ilboru while Balozi and his other countrymen became the first teachers at Monduli Native School.

Back home in Kenya, Marrinka was dispatched to Namanga in 1938 where he too opened a school and would be posted to other areas where he set up learning institutions.

Hefty pay

For their troubles, these pioneers were paid a monthly salary of Sh27.50, which was considered sufficient at that time, when a big bull was worth Sh35.

At the time, teachers had very little expense as they were treated like royalty by the host community who provided food, clothes and at times accommodation.

When Isaac Najomboo ole Korinko who was trained as a hospital assistant, was posted at Loitokito Health Clinic, he was given many head of cattle by his community.

He made history when he bought a vehicle, which plied the Nairobi-Moshi route and made himself a name and some money.



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