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Maasai blessing ceremony
'Enkomono Enkai'On this page: The Livestock sacrifice feasting singing preparing amulets awaiting blessing receiving amulets the blessing
Maasailand in Kenya is in the semi-arid zone and is traditionally a pastoralist community. All these images are from a Lodokilani Maasai community near the Tanzania border.
Sheep and especially goats provide the main source of meat in this area. They are usually herded by the women and children, as in this image.
In a Maasai community, cattle are regarded as much more important. This is because the traditional belief is that all cattle were given by God (Enkai) to the Maasai when the earth and sky split. The cattle are only herded by the men, and meat from cattle is only eaten at important ceremonies, such as the Enkomono Enkai ceremony.
This blessing ceremony is held in times of drought and hardship to give prayers for childless women to have children - and for rain for the pasture. It is therefore partly (but not only) a fertility ceremony. The women in the community are the driving force in persuading the men to agree to the ceremony, as well as providing the resources (cows, money, food etc.) for it. The process by which they 'persuade' the men and collect resources is known as Olamal.
When (and if) persuaded, the men go to their ritual/spiritual leader (Oloboi or Laibon) who lives in Tanzania to get permission for the ceremony. He appoints holy men (Erpayani osenyan) who will perform the religious duties, whilst practical organization is done by the local elders. The day before the ceremony starts, goats and cows are slaughtered for food the following day. That evening a lot of the local beer is drunk by both the men and women - perhaps to reduce any inhibitions... The ceremony then takes place the next day, starting with the killing of the sacrificial bull.
In this case the Oloibo had specified that the sacrificial bull had to be white and to be facing south when it was killed. The men wearing the black or blue cloths over their regular clothes are the Erpayani oosenyan. They are over 80 years old and have graduated from all the Maa ceremonies. The black or blue cloaks are the traditional clothing for the ceremony. The men slaughtering the white bull were selected by members of the community. The reeds must be laid down wherever the meat is put. The second image shows blood being collected from the sacrificial bull. Some of this is drunk by the holy men as part of the blessing. Unlike with some other ceremonies, the blood is not mixed with anything first.
About 300 people attended this ceremony, some of them staying in a temporary settlement (manyatta) which was close to water and in the centre of the location where everybody could get to it. The men gave livestock to be slaughtered in the ceremony; the women gave money for the food and drinks. The first image shows meat roasting which is done only by the men. Special bits of meat are done for the holy men and women; other meat is roasted for everyone else. All the women and men must have a small piece of meat from the bull. All the bull is roasted and must be eaten, but no one should break any of the bones. The second image shows other food for the ceremony which is cooked by the women. The stew in the nearest pans is made with onions, tomatoes, potatoes, meat and royco muchzi mix. The other pans and containers contain rice and chapatis. The stew, rice and chapatis are eaten by everybody.
The first image shows the men singing a traditional song for the cermony. Most of the men singing here are the husbands of the women. They are singing a song about the dangers of wild animals. The women may join in on the song. The second image shows the older women singing their song which is to encourage the ones who have not yet given birth. Jens Finke (2000-2003) provides more information on Maasai music and dance, including the text of a blesssing song. The older women are also there to discuss with the younger ones on how to go about getting children, and what to do after the blessings.
In these two images the elders who came from the Oloboi in Tanzania are preparing olkereti (amulets or good luck charms) from the skin of the white bull that was sacrificed. The inside of the hide is scraped to remove some of the fat and the hide is cut into thin strips. Rings are then produced for the women (worn around the neck) and for the men (worn on the middle finger of the right hand).
The first image shows the completed olkereti. The second image shows several of the moran age group. The morans don't have any special role during the ceremony - but they play quite a big role in making sure the blessing is effective. They follow the women to their enkangs and try to make them pregnant!
This shows all the women in the community lining up for their blessing. It seems there is no particular order in their position in the line.
Notice that each of the women is carrying a stick. Later the woman will put the stick beside her bed. The woman will receive the blessing through the stick if a man comes to make sex with her.
Putting the olkereti on is part of the blessing carried out by holy men. After they have been put on, the women who have not yet given birth become very emotional and prostrate themselves weeping. This behaviour is expected of women to demonstrate how much they want a child. The women take the olkereti to their homes after the blessings to show everyone that they are now blessed. Some women keep it in their bed until they get a child or the rains have started.
Lastly the blessing is given to the women by the holy men. There are two groups of holy men, one on each side of the line of women. Each of the women is blessed several times. In other fertility ceremonies (but not this one) the elders also spit milk over them and dip green twigs in calabash with water & milk and spray it over the bomas simulating semen.