Maasai - Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. The most distinctive feature of Maasai society is the age system, which stratifies adult males into age sets, spaced apart by about fifteen years. Each age set is further divided into two successive subsets, the "right-hand," followed by the "left-hand." Of primary importance in the community is the subset of warriors who have been most recently initiated. In their physical prime, they form their warrior villages during this period, until the next subset captures the limelight. It is the establishment of such successive arrays of warrior villages, every seven years or so, that symbolizes the autonomy of the warrior ideal and the temporary independence of each warrior from his father. This independence extends to those mothers of moran who are "seconded" to the warrior villages of their sons.

Each warrior village is a cultural ideal that proclaims the close fraternity among all warriors. They disown any individual claims to property and are obliged to share their time, their food, and even the girls who are their mistresses. The restrictions on their diet and behavior keep them in each other's company, reinforcing their dependence on their peers.

The warrior villages of one subset are abandoned before the initiation of the next subset of warriors, and retirement to elderhood entails a dispersal into smaller and often more remote villages, in order to exploit fully the available grazing lands and water for livestock. As elders, the mens' prime concern is to establish their families and herds. The transition to elderhood thus entails a transformation from a young man who had been heavily dependent on his peers to a self-reliant and self-interested veteran. The independence of each stock owner within the elder's village is popularly seen as the converse of the close dependency that was nurtured within the warrior village, just as the image of the patriarch is the converse of the popular image of the selfless warrior.

Political Organization. Authority within the age system resides in the linkage of alternating age sets (A-B-C-D-E-F . . .), whereby elders of age set A bring a new age set, C, to life in a ceremony that includes the kindling of a fire: they then become the "firestick patrons" of the members of age set C and are responsible for promoting them as warriors in stages toward elderhood. Similarly, C will eventually be patrons to age set E, creating a linkage of age sets, A-C-E. . ., which is separate from a parallel firestick linkage among age sets B-D-F. . . . This dual system of accountability entails an ambivalent combination of rivalry between adjacent age sets (especially in the south) and of hostility between young and old (especially in the north).

Social Control. Social control among the Maasai rests ultimately on the general belief in the power of elders to bless and to curse, which is linked to their moral superiority in all spheres. The power of firestick patrons over warriors, of fathers over their children, and of all senior kin resides in their power to curse.

Conflict. Conflict among the Maasai focuses primarily on various aspects of warriorhood. The warriors are seen as the defenders of Maasai herds even today, although cattle raiding occurs only on a minor scale as compared with what went on in the past. More pressing are the problems that are internal to the Maasai, those of accommodating the warriors. On the one hand, there is a strained relationship between warriors and elders over stock theft and adultery by the warriors, both of which stem from their prolonged bachelorhood and from the food shortages they often endure, in contrast to the lives led by the wealthy and polygynous elders. On the other hand, there is the rivalry that exists between successive subsets of warriors. The privileges that are claimed by each subset of warriors in their prime are denied their successors until these novices are capable of assuming them in a display of force. This rivalry can lead to fierce infighting. The succession of age sets and subsets is far from smooth, therefore, and the warrior ideal continues to dominate, even after almost a century of peace.

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May 28, 2011 @ 5:05 am
A good history which can be use to teach generation and generation to come.Right now a student at KABARACK UNIVERSITY studying history of different communities here in KENYA and even GLOBALLY.THANKS ALOT.
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Sep 19, 2011 @ 2:02 am
the site is very helpful to us students who are in secondary schools especially we of english medium schools we benefit alot
muhammad sabiu idris aloma
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May 18, 2017 @ 9:09 am
this history is good for the posterity,for them to know their past.
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Feb 7, 2018 @ 9:09 am
History is a great study, I am always willing to learn.

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