Purko morans undergo initiation into elders

Some of the older Morans set to transition to young elders of the Purko Section of the Maasai community. Photo Ben Leshau

By Ben Leshau

It was pomp and colour as young Maasai men graduated from morans to elders of Irmirisho age set.

The cultural “Emanyatta Oloorikan” ceremony that is held to usher in new age sets locally known Esirit was skipped last year because of the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown.

A mixture of joy and relief engulfed the Purko  morans in Narok County as they marked the colorful annual traditional cultural graduation event.

Hundreds of morans with their faces painted in red ochre, wearing beaded necklaces, red shukas and wielding sticks jumped in unison while singing traditional songs ready for the initiation.

The Maasai community has six age sets namely Ildung’isho, Ilnyangusi, Irmeshuki, Orkishili, Erenjai and Irmirisho where
it takes 10 years transition.

A total of 129 families moved their Manyatta’s (homesteads) early in the morning to celebrate the event that happened at Mosiro in Narok East along the Kajiado county border.

Chanting Maasai folk songs, the morans led by their age set leader Moses Kurere left their homes and marched with their belongings to establish a new Manyatta where they will stay for three months to mark the event.

The morans were smeared with red ochre on their heads early in the morning by the elders before leaving their manyattas to start a new life in the new location approximately 10 kilometres away.

The exodus started with cattle being driven at the front, with the age set chief carrying a fly whisk as his kinsmen followed him to the new location heralding the new part of their lives.

Upon arrival at the new location they waited for over two hours for another group of 49 morans carrying a Mutamayo (Olive) tree baton.

The tree is significant to the Maasai community and is always uprooted and carried for several kilometres without it touching soil on the ground.

The traditional elders received the tree and set it on fire to signify life in the new age set at the Emanyatta fete.

Moses Kurere narrated that the ceremony plays an important role in the lives of young men who will now be able to get married and considered respectable elders in society.

He said the burning of Olive tree is one occasion that gives the youth morale to continue with their livelihoods.

Previous generations practiced the same cultures with only 49 men being given an opportunity to carry the Olive tree.

Kurere explained that the fire produced by the olive tree must keep burning because celebrations are held at night.

“Despite the modernity, the Maasai have religiously observed this event that was started by our forefathers. This is a valuable cultural practice that we yearn to live on for many generations to come,” said Kurere.

During the three-month cultural induction, the young men are
taught by elders cultural values, leadership skills and nuggets
of wisdom that they should instill into young generations.

Olobongoi Salau who is also an age set chief narrated that the elders had already blessed the Morans to get married and procreate.

He said the movement from one manyatta to another is a must with the various paintings representing different ages and peace.

Despite the Maa speaking the same language, different sub-tribes such as Ilpurko, Keekonyokie, Uasin Gishu, Moitanik and Ildamat hold their emanyatta ceremonies independently.

John Kaiyoni, a scholar who was among those who graduated told County Press that the “mwacha mila ni mtumwa” (Whoever abandons his/her culture is a slave).

“It is ironical that foreigners adore the Maasai culture yet Kenyans fail to recognize it,” said Kaiyoni.

He however called for the abolishment of harmful cultural practices such as the Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) which he said has hampered the education of the girl-child in the Maasai community.

In 2018 the United Nations, Educational, Scientific Cultural Organization (UNESCO) listed three Maasai male rites of passage as an intangible heritage that needed urgent safeguarding.

The Enkipaata, Eunoto and Olng’esherr are three interrelated male rites of passage of the Maasai community.

The Enkipaata is the induction of boys leading to initiation, the Eunoto is the shaving of the morans paving the way to adulthood and Olng’esherr is the meat-eating ceremony that marks the end of moranism and the beginning of eldership. The rites of passage are mainly practiced by young men of the Maasai community aged between fifteen and thirty but women also undertake certain tasks.

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