History of the Maasai Community (Masai Tribe)

Quick Snapshot of the Maasai History (Masai Tribe)

The Arrival of the Maasai to East Africa

Four Maasai warriors in full armor
Four Maasai warriors in full armor

Today the Maasai are based in Southern Kenya and Northern Tanzania. The Maasai History shows that they are a pastoralists and live in nomadic life and that is their way of life. Their heritage is people and cattle. They migrated from the southern Nile River to northern Africa from the fifteenth century before establishing their settlements in East Africa in the middle of the seventeenth century which is now the landscape of Kenya and Tanzania. On a procession to the South, the history of Maasai tribe, who have been leaving there for fear of being robbed of their dignity and wisdom and losing their community have found themselves migrating to southern Africa. Like the lost nation of Israel, the Maasai Protector resembles the Roman Protector. Like the Romans, the Maasai have always been praised for their strong defenses. Further, when the Arab slave traders invaded the mainland from the coast they could not touch the Maasai; at that time the early European peasants and explorers too were afraid to invade the Maasai as they had a strong defense.

Invasion From Europe

The Maasai History shows that the tribe‘s expansion in southern Africa was halted by a large number of European colonists who arrived in East Africa in the late nineteenth century. Europeans from especially Western Europe began to come to Africa for what is called “scramble for Africa”. The people of Europe were motivated by economic and political reasons when they needed to expand their power. From the beginning of the Maasai History, they were in large numbers in the highlands of Kenya, and unfortunately the British preferred those areas too. Combining the presence of diseases and famines, the people were weak. The British managed to remove the Maasai from their lands and took them to the mountains where their livelihood became difficult. Today, although their numbers are increasing steadily every year, in Africa the Maasai tribe history indicates that the group has become less powerful than before.

Maasai and Religion

Maasai Religious Beliefs
Maasai Religious Beliefs

Religious beliefs in the Maasai History, shows that the Maasai believe that the beginning of the sky and the earth are one, and originally the Maasai did not own any cattle. The Maasai, who are among the minority of the Monastic African tribes, refer to God as Enkai / Engai and believe that he descended cows from above with a rope from the bark (or leather cord or in a burning stick), and the Maasai received the cows, all of which are still here on earth. Wadorobo (Ildorobo), is a group of hunters and collectors who did not receive any cattle, so they continued to cut the Rope, forming a separation between heaven and earth, causing cows to stop descending from Heaven. Based on this belief, it shows that there is a direct relationship between God and the cattle, and that all the cattle in the world are owned by the Maasai.

Maasai History and Culture

The Story About Senteu and Olanana

When you look at Maasai politics and social planning, the Maasai religious leader called Laibon who is responsible for all matters pertaining to religion, ceremonies and medicine is a figure that cannot be missed. It is believed that he has the ability to destroy, cure and predict. His acceptance and respect depend on his ability. Despite his lack of political power, by his power he can wage war.

A popular Maasai proverb says, “Advice given to the son of the eldest wife, can be received and implemented by the son of the youngest wife” this shows how two brothers were vying for a chance to inherit from their father as a Maasai Laibon. In the stories of the Maasai history similar to the biblical ones, the stories of Isaac, Esau and Jacob, Mbatiany, the great Maasai leader had two children, Senteu and Olonana. Senteu as the eldest was accepted as the one who would succeed their old father Mbatiany as the next Laibon. One day when he was alone in a room, Mbatiany called out to Santeu, saying, “Son, I am about to die and I would like to relinquish my power. So make sure you wake up early in the morning before anyone wakes up and come to my bedside to receive blessings as the leader of my people. You will have great power to lead all my people and no one will reject you ”. Unbeknownst to Mbatiany and Senteu, Olonana was hiding in a closet in her father’s room and heard everything her father had said, including everything including the fact Senteu had to go to his father the next morning to receive the blessing.

Maasai Chief Laibon Lenana with German colonists
Maasai Chief Laibon Lenana with German colonists

Soon Olonana heard her father say some words to Senteu and went to his mother and told her all that he had heard. Olonana and her mother decided to make a plan, Olonana was to betray Santeu the next morning so that he could not fulfill his promise to Mbatiany and fail to bless him to become the next Laibon. So the next morning, Olonana got up and went to his father’s bed. Mbatiany asked who he was. Olonana quickly replied, “Father, I am your eldest son, Santeu.” Mbatiany continued to bless Olonana and hand him spiritual and administrative equipments. To complete the next Laibon, Mbatiany said to Olonana “My son come closer so I can hug you close to my chest” After hugging Mbatiany he said “Now you can kiss my tongue” which ended the ceremony and Olonana left immediately so that no one could see him. He received all the power from his father. As he was leaving, Olonana met Santeu at the door entering his father’s house to receive the blessing. They both did not greet and Santeu knew what had happened. Mbatiany heard Santeu enter and asked who was that? Santeu answered his father which made him recognize his voice and asked who was there earlier. Santeu told his father that he met Olonana as he came out while he was entering. Unfortunately for Santeu what had happened could not have been reversed since Santeu and Olonana were both Children of Mzee Mbatiany. But, in the end Mbatiany gave Santeu a box of Wonders that would enable him to kill and chase people away. So Santeu became younger than his brother Olonana even though he was the eldest by birth. From then on Santeu became the helper of his younger brother, Olonana, who was the next Laibon.

Maasai History Timeline

In the middle of the nineteenth century in the Maasai History, a quarrel between two relatives, Olonana, a religious leader and Santeu, a socially accepted leader, led to a conflict between the people. This is the biggest conflict that has ever erupted among the Maasai community and caused a huge separation among them and reduced their ability to stand up against external groups. In order to reduce Santeu’s power and the support he received from the community, Olonana decided to use the white colonists as his allies to oppose his brother in order to build his rule over the people.

However, the colonists were more interested in the fertile Maasai land than they were more involved in the quarrel between the two relatives and used Olonana as a bait to weaken the Maasai power to get more land. The colonists along with Olonana entered into the Treaty of 1904 and 1911 which required the Maasai to continue moving further toward southern Africa and leaving the beautiful highland lands. The Maasai were taken from good pasture lands in the highlands and transported to barren land in the savanna of southern Africa. Their land was legalized as queen land and taken over by white peasants. The Maasai were not paid anything other than to protect Olonana from Santeu.

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