Kenya's Maasai gather for once-in-a-decade ceremony to turn warriors into elders


  • World
  • Thursday, 24 Sep 2020

Maasai men of Matapato attend the Olng'esherr (meat-eating) passage ceremony to unite two age-sets; the older Ilpaamu and the younger Ilaitete into senior elder-hood as the final rite of passage, after the event was initially postponed due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Maparasha hills of Kajiado, Kenya September 23, 2020. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya

MAPARASHA HILLS, Kenya (Reuters) - Thousands of Maasai men clad in red and purple shawls and with their heads coated in red ochre gathered this week for a ceremony that transforms them from Moran (warriors) to Mzee (elders).

Around 15,000 men from all over Kenya and neighbouring Tanzania congregated in Maparasha Hills in Kajiado County, 128 km from Nairobi, to feast on an estimated 3,000 bulls and 30,000 goats and sheep.

The ceremony occurs once every decade at the site, which is surrounded by hills and dotted with acacia trees.

On Wednesday, the men roasted the meat on beds of coal from acacia trees, holding staffs and swords.

"I used to be a Moran, But after this ceremony, I now graduate to be a Mzee (elder)," Stephen Seriamu Sarbabi, a 34-year-old livestock trader, told Reuters.

"I will now be having a lot of responsibilities in the community. I will be chairing some different meetings, I will be consulted," he added.

The arrival of the novel coronavirus in March forced a postponement of the ceremony, which was meant to have been held earlier in the year.

"My role here in this ceremony, is to come and bless my boys to graduate, to another stage of being wazees (elders), and to give them their privileges," Moses Lepunyo ole Purkei, a farmer, community health volunteer and elder, told Reuters.

During the ceremony, the men were accompanied by their wives, who also wore colourful shawls and beads around their necks and sang songs praising and encouraging the incoming group of elders.

There are about 1.2 million Maasai living in Kenya, according to the government statistics office.

(Reporting by Thomas Mukoya; Writing by George Obulutsa; Editing by Omar Mohammed and Alexandra Hudson)

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