Monday, November 8, 2010

Ancient tradition? Or modern day knowledge?

In the Mara I was paired up with a lady from England named Cathy.  She had been on safari a few times before, loved birds and was thirsty for knowledge.  Meaning, she was great to travel with since she opened my mind up to a number of new observations.

At one point her thirst produced a question I wouldn't have otherwise asked in my desire to know more.  We had been talking to our guide, Joseph, who is Maasai.  We asked him of his culture; how old he believed it was.  He stated that he, and other tribesmen, believe the tribe is thousands of years old, having traveled south from Mt. Sinai.  It had me thinking, and when I made mention of the 12 tribes of Israel, he said it is believed that the name Maasai is derived from Manasseh, Joseph's son. He stated that non-tribesmen believe his tribe originated from somewhere in the Sudan.

He spoke of how most men have more than one wife.  He is the oldest of his father's sons, being a child of his father's first wife.  There are five.  When he was a child, the Kenyan government mandated all Maasai tribesmen to send one child to school. Joseph was sent because he was the only one of age.  Most fathers send the least favored child to school, that child is generally born from the least favored wife.  The seemingly harsh infliction is a huge blessing for the unpopular son.  In the end, that son turns into a great blessing for his father and rest of the family as well, since he is the means of financial support for them.

When Joseph was around 14 or 15, the age at which most men in his tribe reach adulthood, the government placed a ban on killing wild game.  Until that time, teenage boys, to prove their manhood, would spear a lion. The boy who's spear first pierced the animal would be honored and allowed to wear the lion's mane around his neck. Now there is no ritual accompanying their circumcision into adulthood.

It was upon hearing that which caused Cathy to pose the question I wouldn't have otherwise asked. "What about female circumcision?," she inquired.  He explained that after a girl's first menstruation, she too is circumcised. Before Cathy's question, I tried feigning ignorance.  Although I had heard it common in Africa, it still left a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.  I couldn't help myself at that point, I had to ask, even though it wasn't my place.  "Joseph," I said, "will you circumcise your daughter?"  He responded that he didn't want to, but unless tradition changed by then he would have to, since it's hard to find a man who will marry an uncircumcised woman.

As saddening as it to see an ancient culture desintegrate, Joseph saying most people doubt the Maasai will be around in 100 years, it is wonderful to know that modern day knowledge is being brought into the tribe, and the end of barbaric and brutal practices is in sight.

1 comment:

Amy said...

Hey Claire! This was thought-provoking for me! In my masters program, I'm in a course where (in a few weeks) we'll be talking about moral relativism, specifically in regard to female circumcision. The moral relativism approach is to help us see how these sorts of practices might be viewed from a different cultural lens. Hard to handle, of course, but interesting to get a perspective outside our own cultural views of what is moral.