Jennifer A. Chin (cswallow) wrote,
Jennifer A. Chin

Noloholo, Day 64: Maasai Blessings

Last night the wind whirled hard against the walls of my tent, keeping me from an easy sleep. I woke several times, in wonderment that it wasn’t morning yet. The day feels fresh and clean, despite the dust coating every breeze.

Kirsten wraps up her project for APW, and in the afternoon we go with Buddy to the day’s sharehe, a coming-of-age ceremony for the Maasai boys in Moylimet’s Boma. Moylimet’s son, Lamayani, is on our staff. One of the nicer things about winters on the Steppe is that one never needs “rain day” contingencies. I ask Buddy if we can take photos, and Moylimet says “yes” but only if we print and give him the pictures later, which somehow turns me into the official photographer for the day.

It is a fine sharehe, complete with the usual meat feast. There’s only three of us, with a whole piece of meat. And then, someone brings over a hot pot of some reddish-looking concoction. I barely touch it, but Buddy and Kirsten make an admirable showing. Later we find out it is made by taking the tenderest parts of the cow, pot-roasting them, and then dousing them with cow blood. It is a real delicacy, and it was definitely a sign of respect for us that they even offered it to us.

Once the meat-eating is over, we head back to the boma (meat-eating happens out in the pasture, where the cows have been slaughtered/cooked) and relax a little. The moranis have their entrance, the dancing begins. Somehow this ceremony feels less intense than previous ones, full of camaraderie and ease. Even the women are more friendly here, coming over to whisper to me, and asking us to take pictures of them. One particularly outgoing girl trailed me almost the entire day, wanting to take photos herself with my camera. It was funny to see her do so, and realize how hard it is to hold a camera still! I’m afraid I laughed a bit too hard at her the last time she tried, and she ran away in embarrassment.

The last piece of the ceremony was new for all of us – the blessing of the family. Before it commenced, I took family photos of them. It was so strange to see it – they lined up shoulder-to-shoulder, with the most solemn looks on their faces, holding perfectly still and clearly uncertain as to what they should do with their legs and arms. It reminded me of American family portraits from four decades ago, and I wondered if these pictures would be printed and kept for generations like those of my own great-grandparents.

The blessing is the most joyful part of the day, in some ways. The head man and woman of the household and their oldest son perch on top of, or around, the dead cow. Everyone gathers around them in a big close circle, while the traditional religious leader gives them blessings of health, cow wealth, happiness, hale harvests, and on and on. At the end, the entire group smiles and laughs. The three get up, someone throws back the skin of the cow to reveal only its inner organs, and the woman of the household takes a machete and punctures its stomach. I’m still not clear on what happens to the cow next, but this action is followed by more dancing and singing. Then, the race is on! The whole crowd dances and sings together. Like a flock heading to water, they move in a unified wedge back across the pasture toward the boma, with the women and men of the households at the front. The deal is this: whichever one of the pair gets to their house first, wins the gift of a cow from the other. So we duck and weave together, the bright reds and blues of the Maasai shukas blowing like flags.

We dance all the way into the boma, into the main cattle corral, and then back out. But then Moylimet cheats, dashing through the corral for his home instead of going with the rest of the procession. So, he beats his lovely wife back to the house!

In the end, the dancing continues, and we leave for Noloholo – already late for the afternoon’s meetings. We startle two kudu in the village korongo (riverbed), and see a dik-dik fleeing into the brush nearer to Noloholo. The sun falls in a glory of tangerine, cerulean, tinged as always with shimmering red dust.

Buddy and I meet with Elvis, who has already done all the pretest surveys and has lots of feedback for us. A quick dinner, and then Kirsten and I sit by the firepit until our exhaustion gets the better of us and we pick ourselves up for bed.
Tags: travel - tanzania
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