There are approximately 880,000 Maasai spread evenly between Kenya and northern areas of Tanzania ~ Maasai derives from the word Maa so Maa-sai means 'my people'. Their population in Kenya currently stands at 840,000, they live a nomadic or semi-nomadic lifestyle and are perhaps best known for their distinctive customs and dress. The Maasai lifestyle centres on the herding of cattle and they have an ancient tradition that God bequeathed to them all the cattle on earth; a tradition quoted when caught rustling cattle from other non -Maasai herdsmen! Given this lifestyle, Maasai boys are expected to be herders from a young age, starting with looking after the family's lambs and young calves from around the age of five whilst girls learn domestic skills.
Then at the age of seven, Maasai boys traditionally have the top of their right earlobe pierced signalling the taking on of more responsibilities such as looking after older calves and herding cattle with the rest of the family. The next stage for Maasai children is the age of sixteen or seventeen when the lower lobes of both ears are pierced in a ceremony that augurs a new period when they take on sole responsibility for cattle and moving herds. Shortly after Maasai boys are circumcised; a rite of passage that then allows him to decorate himself with olive branches and carry a quiver. Around this time Maasai girls are dressed in black robes and a leather decoration is put in her pierced ear lobe.
Living a nomadic lifestyle, presents challenges for the education of Maasai children and although an increasing number of them children are eager to attend education, clearly when they are at school they cannot perform their expected duties. The situation is even worse for girls as there is a clear expectation that on growing up they will marry and live with her husband's kin without need for educational skills. There are, however, programs to bring education, water and health facilities to the Maasai people and this is attempted whilst preserving traditional Maasai culture for as one Maasai warrior put it "A Maasai without culture is as a zebra without stripes. If we abandon our way of life, our next step could be extinction."
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