Maasai Oral Histories
The Maasai Oral Histories Project aims to record and archive Maasai oral histories, myths, rituals, stories, laws, and beliefs, which are traditionally passed on by senior elders.
Final Posting from Africa
Karol Rose
01/19/2005, Talek, Kenya

We're packing up to leave Maasai Mara. Today's posting will be the last message until we return to the states in February. We will continue to update the site with translations and photographs from the Maasai Oral Histories Project.

Section l

The Hare and the Elephant.

The following is a traditional story as told by a Maasai Elder. The story has a moral that may surprise American teachers and their students. The story was used to teach the Maasai children about their culture. In the traditional Maasai culture it was important for children to know that when there were raids on their cattle, or when women of the group were taken by their enemies, or if they were doing the raiding, the children needed to know how to be clever and deceptive. This is a fable created for basic survival.

Once upon a time there was an elephant that was carrying honey in his bag. He went to cross a swollen river and found a hare waiting to cross.

The hare asked if the elephant could help her cross the river. The elephant was very kind and told the hare to climb on his back. While they were crossing the river, the hare discovered that there was honey in the elephant's bag and she started eating it all up untill she emptied the bag. She then thought of a way of tricking the elephant by asking him to collect some stones from the water as she wanted some to play with when she got home. The elephant was happy to collect a number of stones for her and she put them in the elephant's bag to make it heavy again.

After crossing the river, the elephant helped her climb down off his back but, unfortunately, his trunk cut off the hare's tail. The hare was very grateful to the elephant for bringing her across the river, but she was now tailess! When she ran into a group of other hares she asked them to cut off all their tails, otherwise an elephant would come to finish them off if they did not do this. The hares believed her and cut off all their tails.

The elephant soon discovered that his honey was gone and all he had left was a bag full of stones. He then hurried to find the hare and came upon the large group of other hare's. When he asked for a tailess hare, they said "we are all tailess! The elephant felt fooled and left.

Lesson: The hare is the most clever animal and it teaches the children how they should be clever and tactful in difficult situations.

Section ll
By Karol Rose

What would you give for a group of school children eager to learn every day -- to know about things like their own history and yours, curious about how everything they see works?

What would you give for a classroom full of children who didn't care what clothes they wore or what possessions they had, who enjoyed the outdoors, cared deeply about their family and community, had respect for others and especially for their elders?

While this may not describe many American classrooms, it does describe Maasai classrooms. Maasai classrooms are bare, they have few, if any, supplies like books and paper, but they are rich in an interest in learning. Many Maasai children who attend school, and who are able to afford to continue their education beyond elementary school, can speak two or three languages - Maa, Swahili and English -- and would love to continue their education. But many families cannot afford the $300 a year it costs for the first year to send a child to secondary school, which is often a boarding school. After the first year, the cost drops to under $200 a year, but for most Maasai families this represents a year's earnings.

How would you teach these eager pupils? Imagine explaining a computer to children, most of whom have never seen TV, don't have electric lights, and many have never ridden in a car. But these children are surrounded by caring families - often with fathers who have multiple wives - and lots of cows and goats. What frame of reference would you use to explain the modern world and prepare them to survive in that world?

And yet, there is much these children know and understand. In many cases more than most American children who have so many seeming advantages and who take so much for granted. A Maasai child - even the youngest children -- might walk miles each day to get to school. Even the youngest of children make such an effort, even though the path they take may have lions, elephants and other wild animals. These children exude such warmth and are so accepting and inviting, greeting everyone with wide smiles, touching, reaching out. They have such an eagerness to learn and to understand.

For the Maasai, there is an amazing transition taking place that will force or allow these children to move from their communal, rural life of the village, where roles and responsibilities are prescribed by tradition, to the modern world of reading, writing and someday technology. American teachers face many challenges when teaching American children who already have so much. What would American teachers give to find the eager, curious faces of such children as these in front of them every day? What a difference a few resources could make to such children as these. And yet, with these resources will come major life changes. As Maasai children are exposed to technology and the outside world, they will change. The challenge will be to see if it is possible to retain the wonderful, giving nature of the Massai children as they move into the modern world. And the challenge for teachers, those in America and in Maasailand, is to somehow take the best of both worlds. Wouldn't that be a teacher's dream?