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.
Elder Ole Maitai
Ole Maitai, Karol Rose, Regina Nakola
01/14/2005, Aitong', Kenya

Introduction to the Oral History of a Maasai Elder

An elder Maasai was brought to the classroom of a Maasai village school for children 8 to 16 years old. The children asked the Maasai elder to tell them a story about his past. Below is that story about the Mau Mau, as well as some questions the children asked the elder.

A note about oral histories: An oral history is first a personal story - a 'history' from the perspective of the person telling the story, and second, the story is not fact. An oral history is one person's limited perspective or description about an event.

The challenge with an oral history is to determine fact from fiction. Much of history - especially before modern communicatons and transportation made it possible to observe and record events as they happened - was documented from the stories of individuals. While an oral history can tell us a great deal about the time and events as they were experienced by the story teller, they are not fact.

To expand your understanding of the oral history and to find out what is historically accurate and understand more about the Maasai's personal oral history, you must do some research. In the story below, in addition to terms that may not be familiar, there are factual errors. You can determine fact from fiction by researching the Mau Mau rebellion as well as other topics such as the introduction of Rinderpest, a disease that decimated the Maasai herds.

Suggested Activity: Individually or in small groups, identify which aspects of the story should be investigated. Use key words or phrases to research the facts. Discuss and share your findings. You can also illustrate the activities as described by the Maasai elder. Another activity would be to role play the story as told by the elder.

An Oral History: The story about Mau Mau

Elder Ole Maitai asked the students if they knew about the Mau Mau rebellion. The students answered that they had learned about it in school, but they didn't know how it started.

Ole Maitai told the following oral history about the Mau Mau rebelliion:

"I was still youthful and in moranism when the Mau Mau uprising started. By the time my age group was about to get out of moranism we heard about the fighting between the Kikuyu and the white men.

We discussed if we should join the fight with the Kikuyu against the white men, but most of my group refused. The Mau Mau then went into a Maasai community, attacked them and stole many cattle.

Eventually, the Mau Mau managed to get all over Maasailand and when they got into Purkoland they met a young boy looking after the animals and they stole more cows. They also found a Maasai woman and got away with her. The Maasai then set off to find their lost cows and the woman.

They found the footsteps and where the Mau Mau ate the Maasai cattle. It still took many days more to find where they (the thieves) were, but they did not give up.

Finally, they found the cattle and started fighting. It was a tough battle because five Maasai morans were injured and one killed, but they returned with all their cows.

The Mau Mau still came and took more Maasai property, but they started showing signs of defeat. The English government was also involved in looking for the Mau Mau and killing them."

Questions from Maasai students:

Q. What was the meaning of the mau mau fighting?

The Kikuyu wanted to rule over the whole of Kenya. They also wanted the Maasai to join them in chasing away the English so they could rule the whole country.

Q. Where did the Maasai live during the time of Mau Mau?

They lived near Lemek but joined with the Maasai morans all over from Kenya and Tanzania during this fight to protect themselves.
The morans from all over Kenya had their own manyattas, and Olotuno and Oloboru Nkeenda had to bring them all together. It was a big celebration. They came from the left and the right and the left to all join together to form the groups.

Q. What happened to the woman that was stolen by the Mau Mau?

She was found and brought back. She is now old and live in Esikinai.
They found her among the Mau Mau.

Q. Was this the original Maasailand?

It was ilaitayia's, home, but Iltiamus sent them away. This place was called Enkipai. Ilaitayiok were greater in number but they had to move away. The Maasai then moved to Enkipai. The Maasai came from Entorror. They came as a result of the white men sending them away from the highlands 'Entorror'. Ilaitoyiok moved to Tanzania.

Q. What finished the Maasai cattle in the past?

It was the locust that invaded the land. It finished all the vegetation. When the cows ate the leaves that were invaded by the locust they became infected and died.

The people started feeding on hides because of hunger. The people also fed on donkeys, which was really bad.

Q. What made you fight with the Kikuyu?

The Kikuyu were good in trading. The Maasai sold their children by trading them for items. After trading with the Kikuyu the Maasai took back their children.

Section ll

Aitong Primary School
Date: 13 January 20005

Elder's Name: Masaiya Ole Maitai
Age: 75


David Paswa introduced the team members and explained the purpose of the Maasai Oral Histories Project. Bob Pearlman thanked the class and teachers for allowing us to visit, and explained that the images and words spoken today would become part of Maasai history, and that they would be able to see and listen to these recordings many years from now.

Storytelling time

Masaiya Ole Maitai started by greeting the children and explained that stories are part of their entertainment and part of their learning.

The Lioness and the Hyena

Once upon a time there was a hyena that met a lioness with a cub. She told the lioness that she wished to look after the cub. The lioness accepted the offer from the hyena and thefore was able to go hunting for food for the cub every day.

Every evening, the lioness brought the left over meat to the cub and gave the bones to the hyena. Sometimes the lioness was not able to hunt and came home empty-handed. For that reason the hyena was hungry, but still looked after the cub. It continued like that for some days, until the hyena was tempted and ate the cub while the mother was away hunting. When the mother came back in the evening, she could did not see the cub and asked the hyena why it was missing? The hyena lied to the lioness and said the baby was in bed sleeping.

The lioness sent the hyena to check on the baby in case she woke up. The hyena came back and said the baby cub was well fed and that is why it slept so much. The lioness then decided to check on her baby to ensure that it was alright, and she went and found an empty bed.

The lioness then went and confronted the hyena about her discovery that the cub had been eaten. She tied the hyena to a tree as and went out hunting again and thought about punishment for the hyena. At that time, another hyena passed by and found his friend tied to a tree. He was very concerned and asked what had happened? The first hyena answered that he was being punished because he refused to eat fat forced on him by the lioness because the fat was full of flies. The friend wondered why he couldn't eat the fat with the flies in it because it wouldn't have mattered to him at all! Then he then asked his friend if he could be tied instead, as he would be glad to eat the fat when the lioness came home that evening. After switching places, the guilty hyena ran away and joined a pack of other hyenas, pleading with them not tell any lioness that might come looking for him. All the hyenas agreed to accommodate him.

The lioness arrived at home very angry. Her decision was to kill the hyena that had eaten her cub. She grabbed the hyena and attacked him with her claws and the hyena started yelling to be spared because he would be happy to eat the fat with flies in it. The lioness reminded him that she was killing him because he ate her cub. The innocent hyena then explained that he was not the hyena that ate her cub. The lioness then untied him and asked where the other hyena was. She was told that he had joined a pack of other hyenas that were near his cave. She then untied the hyena and thought of a strategy for getting the hyena that ate her cub.

The hyena ran from the lioness and also joined the pack of other hyenas, but the lioness secretly followed. When she came upon the pack it was impossible to know which one of the hyenas was the one that ate her cub. When she asked for the hyena the rest of the pack hid him. Therefore, the lioness said that she was looking for the hyena that had looked after her cub because she had some fresh gazelle kidney for him. When one of the hyenas jumped up and said,
'I am here, give it to me', the lioness attacked and killed him.

Lesson of story:

The hyena will always die because of his greedy behaviour.
The same lesson applies to human beings.

Section lll

Observations of an American Elder


Yesterday, we packed all the equipment necessary to communicate with the students in America. We embarked on an arduous drive to the schoolyard where an elder had recently told stories to a classroom filled with attentive Maasai children. The students, some of them seeming like old friends, greeted us with enthusiasm. They watched in wonder during the hour or so it took us to connect all the necessary cables, position the satellite antenna, and hook in the batteries (for there is no electric power at the school). These children must have had absolutely no idea of what we were up to.

Then our web pages from across the Atlantic - some pages with their pictures - filled the computer screen. Magic? Possibly that's what the children thought, since many believe in magic. For American students, this would be very ordinary. Although we were using the latest technology, Americans are used to constant technological innovation, whereas Maasai children have very limited experience with technology - most having never seen television or used a telephone. What did the Maasai children think about the magical experience of seeing themselves in a computer? Could they understand enough of what they were seeing to even formulate a question?

Charles Brush, January 14, 2005