The Maasai are a strongly patriarchal society.

A boy’s or man’s age determines the role he is to play. Every 15 years, a new generation of warriors (called Morans, or Il-moran) is initiated, including all boys 12-25 years old who have reached puberty and who did not join the previous generation of warriors. Becoming a warrior is a matter of honor and responsibility, and boys undergo several rites of passage to achieve it.

Maasai men in Amboseli KenyaOne such rite of passage is the emorata, a circumcision performed without anesthetic. The boy must endure the operation in silence (as expressions of pain can bring temporary dishonor upon him) and upon completion is considered a junior warrior. The healing process takes three to four months, and the junior warrior wears black clothes and lives in a separate village, called a manyatta, for four to eight months after the ceremony. The manyatta has no circular fence protecting it, emphasizing the role the warrior will play in protecting the community. During this time, junior warriors go through several rites of passage to become a senior warrior, culminating in the “coming of age” ceremony, called the eunoto.

Maasai in KenyaWhen a new generation of warriors is initiated, the existing generation of warriors graduates to become junior elders. The existing generation of junior elders graduates to become senior elders. And the existing generation of senior elders retires.

Responsibilities are based on the generation the man belongs to. Boys are responsible for herding small livestock. Warriors are in charge of the community’s security, and spend much of their time on walkabouts throughout Maasailand. They are also involved in developing and improving the community’s cattle stock through trades and bartering. Junior elders are responsible for political decisions, and senior elders are directors and advisors for day-to-day activities.

 

Maasai Mother and child in Amboseli KenyaThe traditional role of women in Maasai culture is very different to that of men.

Girls are responsible for chores such as cooking and milking. Women are responsible for building and maintaining the houses as well as fetching water, collecting firewood, raising the children, milking the cattle and cooking for the family.

For a girl to transition into womanhood, she must undergo a rite of passage involving a female circumcision. She will wear dark clothing, paint her face with markings and cover her face upon completion of the ceremony. This female circumcision is what is known in the international community as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), and has already been made illegal in Kenya. However, the practice remains deeply ingrained in Maasai traditions, and is largely held as necessary as Maasai men typically pay a much lower bride price for women who have not been circumcised, or altogether reject them.

Once a “woman”, most of these girls are forced into early marriage to a much older man who already has many wives. These child brides begin having children shortly thereafter and often have between three to five, of which half will pass away before the age of five.