We asked the girls of St. Francis Secondary School to tell us what life is like for them being a Maasai in Kenya. This is what they had to say, in their own words....
In Maasai culture, they usually believe that once a girl is education, she will take all her wealth to the husband’s home. This means that the education of a girl is usually not of importance. After primary school (age 15) it is common for the girl to be married, so that her parents can get the dowry.
No. This is because women are seen as valueless in their communities. Women are inferior in that they are viewed as vessels for obtaining wealth and serving their husbands and children. When there is a crisis between the husband and wife, the wife has no right to speak out about the wrongdoings of her husband. All she can do is accept everything. From the time of marriage, the woman has no right to say anything but to accept the husband’s choices.
I find this all strange though I am a Maasai woman myself. I am studying hard at school to fight out this evil cultural belief. It is really unfair to women.
Without considering education, a Maasai girl should be married at the age of 15 years old. This is the time when she enters into her adolescence stage. She is usually given away at the age of 15 so that her parents do not have to get involved in a hectic time of trying to control her during puberty. The husband who has booked her during her birth is then called to take her away and teach her how to behave like someone’s wife, and not like an adolescent girl.
For this reason, Maasai women are openly beaten by their husbands and cannot go back to their parents since the discipline of wives is one of the roles assigned to the new husband. Young wives just persevere until they graduate into their parental lives.
Responsibilities of Maasai women:
* Fetch water and firewood
* Prepare food for the family
* Building housing
* Milk cows and clean their sheds
* General home cleanliness
* During ceremonial acts, participate in organizing singing and serving everyone.
Responsibilities of Maasai men:
* Look after animals
* Provide food for the family
* Security of home
Maasai women look after the family, including the in-laws and her own family. She prepares meals for them, washes their clothes, fetches water & firewood and cleans the house. Beside the household chores, she also looks after the left behind creatures at home (i.e. the bind cow, the broken legged sheep.) She makes sure that she has cut grass for the animals and ensures that they have had plenty of both pasture and water. The women also repair the house. She mixes water and cow dung to seal the wholes in the manyattas, Maasai-style houses.
The man only gives orders. Being the breadwinner of the family, he is respected and obeyed by all. His makes sure that the herders have taken the cows for grazing, the women have fed the children, the clothes, especially his, are sparkling, and that no children are left at home during the day time. He sends them to look after sheep, cattle, and goats; younger children look after lambs, kids and calves according to their age.
In Maasai culture, the parents of the girl select a man who is wealthy and bring a lot of dowry. His age does not matter. The girl is only informed on the day of the wedding and had no choice but to adhere to what the parents say. Failure to do this means that you will be cursed and disowned.
A Maasai woman can marry only once. If she and her husband live together in love, only death will separate them. If they quarrel, the wife can leave him and go back to her parents. If the parents do not receive her back in the family home, she can live along and provide for herself. If a husband should die, the wife still cannot remarry. She can choose to remain at the husband’s family home, or return to her parents.
A Maasai man can marry more than one wife and this will depend on him. Marrying more than one wife happens if the man is wealthy, if the wife is barren, or if they couple is unfaithful to each other.
If the husband has adopted the custom of having multiple wives (polygamy), everyone tries to live in harmony so long as the husband is fair in the way he attends to each wife. He should not favor one over the rest. Every wife has her own house but they are in the same area. The husband spends his night in the house of the wife who does not have a suckling child. When the man grows old or his children are grown, he will build a home of his own in the same locality.
When a wife delivers, the man goes to live in the other wife’s house if it is a polygamous marriage. If not, he goes to live in the parent’s house, a friend’s house, or even stay out for a period of time. During this time, the woman takes care of the child and continues with all the duties. It is only for a period of two days that she can get help from fellow women and after that all the responsibilities are left for her. If the family is poor, the wife may not even get a balanced diet to enable her to sustain the young child. This is why many Maasai women are thin.
A man does not even bother himself about the situation his life is in; his only aim is to ensure that his rules are followed regardless if his wife is expectant, sick or even in delivery.
The women is mercilessly beaten with heavy weapons and then taken before the elders to answer questions laid forth. After that she either apologizes to the husband even if it is he who wrong, or goes back to her family. If a woman continues to disobey her husband, she will be beaten again and given a divorce. Her husband will take the children. This woman will be regarded as a harlot in the community: no one will be allowed to socialize with her since she is an outcast.
In the Maasai community, girls have historically been oppressed because they do not have their own choice. They were forced by the elders of the community to be circumcised, which is harmful to their health. Also according to their culture, they must pass this rite: failure to do so and they will be rejected and isolated from their families. The Maasai believe that it is advantageous for their girls to be circumcised so that they may loose the desire for sexual intercourse, which will reduce early pregnancy.