A few days ago I received an invitation to attend a tremendously special event – a Maasai warrior graduation ceremony. Taking place roughly every 5 years, this was to be held about an hour’s drive west of Angama Mara, in the direction of Lake Victoria. With absolutely no idea of what to expect, I quickly packed all my cameras into a car and sped off in hopes of capturing this rare event.
I arrived mid-morning to find red ochre-painted young men, fully kitted out in their traditional Maasai shukas, in the midst of slaughtering five cows. It was like an outdoor abattoir. Plumes of smoke could be seen rising from the pockets of forest fragments, chunks of meat, lanced onto branches, roasting on the flames. To one side a large but temporary manyatta (small village) had been erected with a number of small huts. We met the community elder who walked us through the manyatta and introduced us to a number of people. He gave us a very brief explanation of what we may see during the course of the day and why it was all happening.
He also, very kindly, allowed me to take photographs of certain parts of the ceremony. It was clear from the outset that nothing was staged. This was completely authentic and for the next few hours a handful of us ‘outsiders’ were offered a front row seat into a custom as old as the Maasai themselves.
What struck me immediately was that although the majority of what was unfolding before us was ancient in its traditions, there was definitely a modern spin and influence. First, there were the numbers of cell phones being used to record the ceremony, followed by the bottles of spring water being drunk, the sports shoes, the long cartoon-printed socks, and the photo booth being erected to the side – with a backdrop that had Lamborghinis, Porsches, fancy houses, hot air-balloons, helicopters and airplanes. This was a Maasai party for the modern day!
The catchment area around Angama Mara falls under a subset of the Maasai known as ‘The Siria Maasai’. The Siria Maasai consist of 5 sub-clans: Irkunono, Olorien, Ilaisier, Iltorobo and Irkaputie. During this phase the warriors of each sub-clan build their own camps where they live – honing their skills while learning age-old traditions.
The way I understood it, the focus of this day was for the warriors from one of the sub-clans to come together and present themselves, and their cows, to the elders of all the five sub-clans. Each sub-clan had to send a cow as an offering. The other four sub-clans will meet in the upcoming days in similar events. Once all five of the sub-clans have met the Siria Maasai elders, the warrior-group will be given a name, and a date will be set for the massive graduation ceremony for this ‘age group’ of warriors to become junior elders within the community.
There was much jumping, singing, dancing, blessing, and celebrating. It was a privilege to have been allowed to witness this special day. The highlight for me was undoubtedly the moment when the young warriors huddled up close together into a circle and started chanting – a sound so guttural, so unifying, so moving, that it hits you right in the chest. It left me in absolute awe. Fortunately, I had my camera. Because I was speechless.
By Adam Bannister of Angama