Maasai - Orientation

Identification. The Maasai comprise a federation of tribal sections whose economy is based on nomadic pastoralism. Most prominent among them are the Purko and Kisonko, and also among the core groups are the Damat, Kaputiei, Keekonyukie, Loita, Koitokitok, Loodokilani, Matapato, Salei, and Serenket. More peripheral, and with different clans but sharing the Maasai age system, are the Dalalekutuk, Laitayok, Moitanik, Siria, and Uasinkishu, and also the agricultural Arusha. More peripheral still, with their own independent age systems, are the Parakuyu, Samburu, and Tiamus. Because each tribal section is effectively autonomous, both economically and socially, there is a considerable diversity in custom between sections.

Location. The designated Maasai region covers some 100,000 square kilometers, divided between southern Kenya, where most of the Maasai live, and northern Tanzania, where the land is more arid and the population sparse. The principal rains come in the spring. The dry season typically covers the six summer months, extending occasionally to periods of eighteen months or more when the rains fail in some part of the region.

Demography. There are rather more than one-quarter of a million Maasai, with a broad balance between the sexes. A high rate of polygyny is achieved by delaying the age of marriage of young men as compared with that of girls. During their extended period of bachelorhood, youths are still regarded as warriors ( moran ).

Linguistic Affiliation. Maa (Maasai) is classed as a Paranilotic language.

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