Maasai Religion

Doctrines The Maa speaking peoples of East Africa believe that at the beginning sky and earth were one, and the Maasai did not have any cattle. God (Enkai) then let cattle descend from the sky along a bark rope (or leather strap or firestick), and the Maasai received all cattle that currently exists in the world. The Dorobo (Ildorobo people), a group of hunters and gatherers, did not receive any cattle, and therefore proceeded to cut the rope, producing a separation between heaven and earth, and stopping the flow of cattle from God. From that belief, it follows that there is a direct link between God and cattle, and that all cattle in the world belong to the Maasai.

History Archaeological and linguistic evidence suggest that already at the beginning of the second millennium (CE), there were Maa speaking groups south-east of lake Turkana, who had separated themselves from other Nilotic groups that moved into Uganda and the Sudan. However, it is not till the 1800s that age-sets, through the collection of oral genealogies, can be accounted for. Two large Maasai expansions had already taken place, and from that point of view, the history of the Maasai points to a constant re-creation and assimilation of groups, rather than to a single group moving across Kenya into Tanzania. The first expansion occurred at least 300 years ago, possibly earlier, when Maa speaking peoples moved from northern Kenya into the Nakuru area of the Rift Valley. The second expansion took place in the 18th Century, when Maasai moved out from Naivasha-Nakuru, south-westwards to Loita, Mara, and Serengeti, and south-eastwards to Ngong, and across the plains to Kilimanjaro.
After 1900 though, and the establishment of colonial rule, the era of expansion came to an end, and imprecisely drawn boundaries were hardened and became policed borders. To that effect, the demarcation of reserve boundaries that took place before the First World War, meant that as early as 1902, Maasai districts were considered closed, and non-Maasai could not move in, while Maasai could not move out. This was one of the historical factors accounting for the preservation of Maasai religion, which basically remained unchanged till Kenya's independence in 1963.

Symbols From their myth of origin, and throughout their main religious festivals, Maasai stress the symbolism of cattle. Cattle are the gift of God to man, and thus symbolize and substantiate the qualities of God. In the same way, the meat-eating and milk-drinking rituals are sacramental meals, due to the fact that they symbolize the unity of God, and man, through cattle. Therefore, at birth, circumcision, marriage and all the great age-set ceremonies livestock is ritually killed, and the meat (blessed by elders) publically consumed.
All those ceremonies take place at ritual villages, that are constructed in order to enact rituals that symbolize and make possible the continuity of Maasai. Houses and objects in those ritual villages reproduce fundamental cosmological concepts, and inform the organization of space, colours and shapes in the homestead. For example, the warrior village is organized according to the clan system, while the eunoto village allows processes of circumcision to take place, symbolizing the 'planting' of a new age-set of senior warriors. In the case of the coming of elders the same spatial and symbolic construction takes place, and cattle sticks are blessed as symbols of wisdom and elderhood.

Adherents No official figures available.

Main Centre
 Nakuru/Naivasha (Kenya), the Rift Valley (Kenya and Tanzania).