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.
Questions and Answers
Maasai Oral Histories Team and Students
01/18/2005, Talek, Kenya

This message was posted from the Maasai Oral Histories Project site:

From Amy D.
I have just this moment discovered the information regarding this wonderful project and have searched the website to discover a link to give us audio participation and have been unsuccessful. Will you please let me know if this is possible? I assume that I have overlooked the answer to this question all ready, but I do not want to miss this opportunity if it is available.

Hi Amy:

We were not able to do either audio or video streams this time due to the limited amount of data we could transmit to the satellite. The final DVD will contain audio in Maa, Swahili, and English, with many images, both still and high-definition video. We are finished with this phase of the project, and the web site will be updated as soon as we return to the states in February.

Thanks so much for logging in.

Robert Pearlman
Maasai Oral Histories Project

Section ll
Questions from Ashley P.
Answers from Regina Nakola

Q. Since Maa is an unwritten language; I wonder how the Maasai communicate with each other if they do so in ways other than oral storytelling? Or has it been forbidden, or taboo, to even consider such a thing?

A. Maasai didn't have their language written. Most Maasai people did not go to school and it was easy to communicate even without written Maa.

Their main way of communication was through oral conversation. They passed on information from village to village through 'Ilomon'. If two elders met on the way, they would both converse and tell information about their family, health and anything new that is happening. If they had some important information that has to be passed to everybody they would call a meeting 'entumo'. This is how information is conveyed.

Q. Do they draw pictures to tell stories?
A. The Maasai do not draw pictures to tell stories.

Q. Upon learning about other languages such as Swahili and English etc, has anyone thought about ways in which to write their language? Has anyone ever been inspired to attempt to form a written language of Maa?

A. Maasai language was taught in Maasai schools in the past between the 70's and 80's but not now. The government of Kenya stopped it.

Q. Do they create art? What kinds? I love painting, drawing, and ceramic sculpture... what kinds of materials do they use to create art? Do they do anything like painting, using pigments - Only body painting, or do they paint objects too?

A. The Maasai people create art. The main art is beadwork. The clothing is decorated with beads and most ornaments worn around the necks and arms are all made and decorated with beads. They use the materials they have like cow hides for their artwork.

Painting is done. They paint using the white, red and black ochre. For instance the Maasai shield is painted using all these colours. They also paint their bodies during ceremonies. Some tattoo their bodies as part of decoration.

They are also sculptors. They curve the men canes (Enjarakaka and Oringa).

There are also blacksmiths 'Ilkunono'.

Q Do the Maasai wear shoes? They seem to do a lot of walking.
A The Maasai people wear shoes, too. In the past the open shoes were made from the cowhides and they lasted longer.

All types or shoes are worn these days but some do not like them though. Children go to school and shoes are part of their uniform.

Q. I know that as a culture, the Maasai do not have the same kind of 'materialistic\' values that our American culture possesses. Does materialism show itself in any way in their lifestyle or activities?

A The Maasai way of life is simple. An example is the kind of houses they live in 'Kraals', the beds inside are improvised, and they use firewood instead of Electric cookers.

The wealthy Maasai people possess large herds of cows, sheep and goats, large families and land. They also believed that the society members should not be poor. If any of the Maasai men were poor, the community contributed cattle and sheep for them.

A few educated people live expensive lives.

Q Do they have clothing and shoes that are considered 'fashionable' vs. 'practical'?

A They don't have

Q. In America and Europe, we place strong cultural and monetary value on 'designer' clothing, shoes, bags etc. and many people have a passion for certain kinds of design of these items. Is there something like this in Maasai culture, where perhaps a particular kind of design or style is more difficult to make or produce, or perhaps the materials have a higher perceived value?

A The Maasai have their own ways of designing and those that were good in designing taught others.

Q. American children and teenagers have favorite clothing that they wear, do the Maasai children? Do they have a choice in what clothing or jewelry they wear each day?

A. They haven't favorite clothing. They only dress with 'shuka's' and the beaded ornaments. The ornaments vary; some are worn by young people and others by older people.

Section lll
This message was posted from the Maasai Oral Histories Project site:

Maura T. asks:

I like reading about the stories you are hearing.

Q. I would like to know more about the students too - how old are they when they go to school?

A. Students begin at the age between 6-8.

Q. How long do they stay? Do they all go to village schools? What do they learn?

A. They stay around 9 years in primary school. They begin from Kindergarten (Nursery school) and then Class 1 - 8.

High school is 4 years and they can decide to join University, which takes another 4 years.

Q. I like the animal stories. Do they also have lots of stories like the Greek myths with heroes too?

They have stories about giants but not anything like the Greek myths.

Section lV:
Answers to questions posted by Maasai Students

Q. What do you eat before you go to school?
A. Oatmeal, cereal or fruit.

Q. What is the time difference compared to African time?
A. We are 9 hours behind you. We live in Minneapolis, MN.

Q. How do you dress when you go to school?
A. We wear a dark blue uniform. Either a dress or pants, with a white shirt and sweatshirt.

Q. What are your accommodations like? What sort of beds?
A. I sleep alone in my bed in my own bedroom. My sister has her own bedroom and my parents do as well.

Q. How many subjects do you do at school? Elementary school? How many grades do you have at the elementary school (classes)?
A. I am in 4th grade, am 10 years old. I have 7 subjects. My school has 9 grades: kindergarten (5 years old) to 8th grade (14 years old).

Q. When do you close your schools?
A. We go to school from September through early June.

Q. What time do you leave school to go home?
A. We start at 8 am and end at 2:25 pm.

Q. Are you ever beaten at school by teachers? Disciplined?
A. NO! Sometimes, but rarely, children have to stay after school, in detention, or go talk to the school principal. But we are never beaten, that would be illegal.

Q. What are your schools like? Are they built of mud, brick or wood?
A. My school is built of bricks.

Q. Are you taught first aid at school?
A. Yes

Q. Do you go to look after cattle?
A. No, we live in the city.

Q. Do you have any cows and goats?
A. No

Q. How many are you at school?
A. 400

Q. What is the name of your school?
A. Annunciation Catholic School

Q. How many teachers do you have per class?
A. 1 teacher for 20 children

Q. Do they cook for you at school or do you have to rush home, have food and get back to school?
A. They serve food at school, but sometimes we bring our own lunches.

Section V
Questions for Maasai students:

Q. We would like to ask you how many days are in your school week?
A. 5 days from Monday to Friday. Classes begin from 8.00 am - 4.45 pm.

Q. Have you ever seen snow?
A. It does not snow in Kenya so we have never seen, but only read about it in books.

Q. What are some of your favorite foods?
A. The Maasai favorite foods are milk and meat. We have other foods like rice, potatoes, ugali, peas and beans, maize, etc, all cooked in different ways. They are all borrowed styles from other African people