Photographs of a Masai ceremony


The enkinosata Oo nkiri Masai ceremony (or Eating of Meat)

On the 9th of October over 300 Masai warriors or moran underwent the enkinosata Oo nkiri ceremony. It literally translates to “Eating of meat”.

This is one of the most important graduation ceremonies for the moran as it signifies their entry into adulthood. The event takes place only once every 10 to 12 years and only men of a specific age set based on their date of circumcision can graduate.  Young men are circumcised at any age but usually between 10 and 20.

Why is it called the Eating of Meat?

After circumcision at the age of between 11 and 25, , Masai moran cannot eat meat that has been seen by a woman. This is a strict form of discipline that ensures that women and children are the only ones to eat meat at home. Moran can only eat meat in the bush. During this “eating of meat” ceremony, the moran graduate out of this stage and their wives and mothers give their husband the meat as a symbol of service.

Moranhood


Moranhood is a period during which young men perform community service. It is the warrior class and they are expected to protect and defend, they go through physically difficult trainings and education by the elders. It is a period during which men learn discipline, – while a man is a moran he cannot drink milk from their own homes, and he must never  eat alone.  This forces him to socialize with his age mates and know the families in the area. These rules seem odd to most outsiders, but we were told that it generates a culture of hospitality and any moran can visit any manyatta and seek a place to sleep and something to eat.

This ceremony separates one class of moran warriors from the other.

The Sacred bull

The ceremony hinges on a sacred bull. A special bull is selected by 2 or three elders. It must be pure, it must be of one solid colour and have never been injured, nor have any defects. It must be perfect. The sacred bull is chosen from a respected man’s herd and it’s identity is kept a secret until the day of the ceremony. This can be for up to 2 years. The bull is exchanged for a heifer because cows more sacred than bulls.

Once the bull has been lassoed by the foot the moran gather around and sing for it. It’s a way of calming the bull – and making it confused. Songs for the bull are not prescribed but run more like a rap – the lead singer flatters the moran, sings in praise of the bull and cows – describe ing the shape of the horns, the way it walks. The other moran gather ever closer chanting the chorus in hypnotic sound. Eventually the bull lies down, the songs stop and one moran dries a sharp sword into the bulls spinal column severing it instantly. The crowd look on with expressions of great sadness.

Elders and moran then skin the bull and the others leave the stockade to sing and dance. The meat is roasted and the moran will eat only the right hand side of the bulls flesh.

The meat is roasted on a fire that fire is lit by a specially respected old man who has fetched a particular piece of wood from the forest. He lights the fire the traditional way driving one piece of wood against another and blowing on the grass until it sets aflame.

Pinning the hide


The singing and dancing goes on all day and at a certain point the women participate in pinning out the bull hide. This is a very special ceremony conducted only by women and only by women who were virgins before circumcision. Any woman who has been unfaithful to her husband cannot approach the hide of the sacred bull, she must return to her fathers home to retrieve 8 cows which will be paid to her husband as a penalty for her offence. No questions are asked but she must promise never to repeat the offense.

Men women and even visitors are adorned wtih red ochre for this ceremony.

Sticks for Weapons


The moran cannot carry swords, spears or dangerous weapons to the ceremony. In stead they carry only sticks. These are special white sticks or fimbos called Eng’udi and they are blessed. The Masai have a saying that Moran should be ‘like a slender stick’. This means they must control their anger. With an Eng’udi one can punish but cannot kill an enemy. The Moran must keep the Eng’udi stick under their beds after the ceremony.

The role of Women


During this ceremony women participate only as wives and mothers. Otherwise they are largely disregarded and are not involved with decision making.  It is a fact that female circumcision is still widely practiced among the Masai.

This information was shared with us by Bedan ole Ngatet. The photographs were taken by Peter Greste. We will be uploading  a slideshow with sound from the event later.  Members of FoNNaP who are interested in attending one of these ceremonies should contact Paula by leaving a message on this email or mailing fonnap1@gmail.com

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13 responses to “Photographs of a Masai ceremony

  1. Good story and fantastic photos. I’ve been studying cultures and their influence on environment for a while now and I would like to get a practical experience. What are the requirements to attend the enkinosata oo nkiri Maasai ceremony? Am also interested in filming

  2. Great pix and interesting info.

    As @RafikiKenya points out, there’s some influence from outside, which makes you get the feeling some of them actually live in urbanised settings. Good stuff!

    • They do! this is only a few KM from Nairobi City Center and most of the men in the community are at university or have jobs in the city. That’s why it’s all the more amazing that they have retained such strong cultural identity (apart from the shoes and socks). Actually it’s against their rules to wear trousers so they all had shorts on under the shukas!

  3. Nice pictures!
    FYI: It’s Maasai not Masai – derived from the language Maa. This is a very common misspelling.
    Maasai culture like many others is evolving rather fast. One of my all time favorite photographers, Liz Gilbert is doing some really amazing work trying to document some of this stuff. If you are interested you can check her work out on youtube ‘Lizgilbert’.

    • Thanks, I know that but over her the spelling is interchanged a lot! On the internet I use Masai because it’s the most common way it’s spelled (google it – 16 million sites for Masai vs 2.6 million for Maasai! Sad but true and we need the internet traffic to find us easily. Sorry 😦 I’ll try to use both in future

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