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Age-sets

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The Maasai community defines itself through constructed age-sets and ceremonial rites of passage.  As boys mature and prepare for elderhood, they undergo a number of rituals that signify changing their roles, statuses and lifestyles.  Each ceremony is an important expression of Maasai culture, bringing “new life” and a new importance to the men. Women, on the other hand, do not undergo such initiations into society. Instead, they define themselves through their husbands age-set.

Once boys reach between fourteen and sixteen years of age, they undergo their first ritual: enkipaata. This “senior boy ceremony” marks the creation of a new age-set and initial preparation for warrior hood. Accompanied by a number of elders, the boys will travel throughout the land and settle in thirty to forty enkangs. During this time, the boys are united through rituals of dancing, singing and working on the homestead.

After enkipaata, the boys go through emuratare, or circumcision. Seven days prior to the procedure, boys gather and herd cattle together to prepare. Just before dawn on the eight day, boys are cleansed by a cold shower and circumcised. Male circumcision is one of the most defining transitions, markings a shift from boyhood to manhood. Throughout the procedure, boys must remain calm and resist flinching. If the male does not flinch, he is showered with praises, honor, respect and gifts. If he does, he is disowned by the Maasai society.

Men are then gathered for emanyatta, a ceremony that marks introduction into warrior hood. For the following ten years, men reside together in twenty to forty enkangs. While in the camp, men learn about the age-set brotherhood, animal husbandry and their role as protectors. Warriors greatly revere this time and are wary of its ceremonial ending through eunoto.

Two ceremonies, Enkang e-kule and Enkang oo-nkiri, are then performed to transition men from warrior hood to fatherhood. The first marks the first time than men eat in front of their lovers, signifying a change from their former self-sufficiency. Additionally, a bull-skin ritual is performed amongst the men.  Men wrestle to get close to the skin, which then reveals whether or not their wives had sexual relations with men outside their husbands age-set.  If she has, she must regain her husbands respect by presenting him with a female cow.

Finally, around age thirty-five, men are initiated as junior elders through Orngesherr.Once an elder, men must assume full responsibility of their families and move onto their own homesteads. This significant change is represented through the shaving of an elder’s head, which had not been cut since pre-warrior hood.

As noted above, females mostly define themselves through their husbands, instead of strict age-sets and ceremonial rites of passage. However, nearly all Maasai women will undergo female circumcision, or FGM. This operation has become engrained into Maasai society, leaving girls exiled if they choose not to undergo FGM.

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