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.
A Maasai Fable
A Maasai Grandmother 01/17/2005, Maasailand
The Caterpillar and the Hare
Once upon a time lived a hare that went grazing every day.
One day she came home and found her den had been invaded.
A caterpillar had gotten into it and closed the door.
The hare called out and asked, "Who is in my den? " The caterpillar spoke out in a scary voice that he was a big hungry giant and that he should be left alone.
The hare then went to all the other animals and asked for help to remove a giant that was living in her den. Every animal that went to help asked in a loud voice, "who is in my little beautiful sister's den", and "could you please get out"? When the caterpillar answered, all of the animals, including the lion, were frightened by the scary voice and left.
An ant then came along and asked the same question that all animals did, and the caterpillar answered again in the same scary voice. But the ant wasn't frightened and went inside to bite him. The caterpillar screamed, and said "I am not a giant. I am just a useless little green caterpillar and I will leave". After he left, the hare moved back into her den.
Lesson: It is amazing that a little creature like an ant can work wonders
Observations of an American Elder
After one of the storytelling sessions in a school classroom, we had a picnic lunch under trees and the Maasai elder joined us. "How old are you?" he asked pointing to me. "Eighty-one", I answered, "and you?" He said he was seventy-five though this must have been a guess as the Maasai do not keep records of births. In all events, he was old, perhaps older than I am. We leaned against a tree in the shade and an interpreter joined us. The elder was interested in how we cared for our cattle and our marriage customs and asked, "Do men or women care for cattle?" Does the father pick a man for his daughter? Does money change hands before the wedding ceremony? How old must a girl be to marry?"
I asked the elder Maasai about ceremonies, especially those connected with death and dying. He said there is little ceremony at the time of death. The body is carried to a field, a hole is dug, and stones piled atop the grave. There is no grave marker. Afterwards, family members occasionally gather about for prayers and songs. "How can the gravesite be found without a specific marker?" I wanted to know. "There is always someone who knows where the person is buried" he answered. Maybe, I thought. "And the songs, the chants and prayers...who will remember the special words and music?" The elder replied, "There will always be someone." "But, what if there's no one? If the children have grown, learned English and moved away? What then?" The Maasai elder told me that many who learned English and left the village joined Christian churches and have probably forgotten the old ways, but, he assured me, "There will always be someone who remembers."
How sad it is for a culture with no written language to lose their spoken language. Then, when there is no one who remembers, there can be no language to speak to the ancestors with. No way of passing on history and traditions. There is nothing left. The culture with all its inherent riches is gone forever.