Maasai - Marriage and Family

Marriage. Marriages are arranged by the elders, without consulting the bride or her mother. Polygyny is an ideal that is achieved by most older men. As a result of their being younger than men at the time of marriage, most women become widows, and it is understood that they should not remarry.

Domestic Unit. The father is the key figure in the patriarchal family, and, theoretically, his control is absolute—subject only to interference by close senior elders in situations of crisis. Traditionally, as long as the father was alive, no son had final control over his cattle nor over his choice in marriage; this is still the norm in pastoral areas, away from the townships. In practice, as they age, older men rely on their sons to take over the management of the family, and it is the subservience of women that is the most permanent feature of the Maasai family. After her husband's death, even a forceful widow is subordinate to her sons in the management of her herd, and she finds herself wholly unprotected if she has no sons.

Inheritance. At marriage, a bride is allocated a herd of cattle, from which all her sons will build up herds of their own, overseen by their father, who also makes gifts of cattle to his sons over the course of his life. When the parents die, the oldest son inherits the residue of his father's herd, and the youngest inherits the residue of his mother's allocated cattle. Daughters inherit nothing at all.

Socialization. The warrior village plays a key role in the socialization of men. Boys are taken away by their older warrior brothers as herders and are taught to respond to the discipline of the warrior village. Then, in due course, as warriors within their own village, they are expected to develop an unquestioning acceptance of the authority of their peers to emerge to elderhood with a strong sense of loyalty to this peer group.

A girl's childhood is dominated by a strict avoidance, even a fear, of her father and other elders. Her marriage prospects and her family's reputation hinge on her ability to develop an acute sense of respect. She is socialized to accept her subservience to her future husband—himself an elder—and to the elders at large.


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