Unlike many of us who think cattle are only for meat, milk and hides, on your Tanzania safari during your cultural tour in Tanzania/ safari Tanzania, you will learn that among the Maasai, cattle are there everything from food, medicine, material, culture, ritual. In other words, cattle are life.
Unlike among the Baganda tribe of Uganda, cattle to the Masaai is a symbol of wealth and a source of pride (the more the better), and a person’s entire life revolves around the herds. This alone pressurizes them pasture and care for them, the need to protect them, and the need to move with them in search water.
Traditionally, for a man to have a wife, depended on the number of cows he had. In order to have more cows, the Masaai men resorted to the aggressive nature of relations with their neighbors. The Masaai men often had warfare over land, grazing rights, and cattle raids. War fares were essential in guaranteeing a family’s prosperity, as well as to massage the warrior’s ego and enable him to get married.
During your Africa safari, visit Uganda for a Uganda safari tour/ cultural safari Uganda in the Ankole region. During this safari Uganda/ tour Uganda, you will learn that the Ankole value cattle just like the Maasai. For a man to marry a girl/woman in this region, the girls’ parents visit the boy/man’s family with the strongest man in the region, he throws a spear to his furthest distance and all cows behind the spear are taken by the girls’ family as bride wealth.
Cattle as wealth among the Masaai
Research has it that the Masaai are the wealthiest people in Africa. Each person owns about 14-19 cattle. Therefore, a typical family of about 8-10 people owns between 125-140 heads. These numbers alone produce more than the required litres of milk needed by them for daily subsistence. If they one-time decided to have this in monetary terms, they would easily be the richest tribe in Tanzania if they ever sold all their stock however, they certainly can’t.
In order to waste milk, as a rule, the Maasai keep as many cattle as possible, so that only a portion of the milk is used for human consumption, leaving plenty for their calves. As a result of good feeding, Maasai cattle are generally larger and in better condition than those of their neighbours.
When it comes to milking, the Masaai women milk the cows unless there are no women around, whereas the Masaai men herd and protect them keeping livestock safe from predators and still ensure they are adequately supplied with water and fresh pasturage.
Physical uses of cattle to the Maasai
As a tradition, the Maasai only feed on milk, either fresh or clotted called osaroi, as their staple food. This is often drunk mixed with blood and this is done once a month. The mixture is often referred to as nailang’a. This mixture is commonly done in the dry season when milk yields are low.
How do they collect the blood?
A noose is tightened around a cow’s neck, causing the jugular vein to swell. They then bring a short blunt arrow with a 1cm tip and its shaft bound with twine, is then fired at close range from a loosely-strung bow to puncture the vein. The blood which spurts out is collected in a gourd. The wound is not fatal and is stopped afterwards with a wad of mud and dung to stop the bleeding (this is not that any different from people donating blood). The Maasai believe the blood makes them very strong.
The living animals also provide dung, which is used to plaster houses. The urine has some medicinal and cleansing qualities, and is also used in building.
Cattle are only rarely slaughtered, and this only in times of famine, ritual purposes such as by warriors seeking strength before a raid, or when the animal becomes too old or lame to be of other use. Meat is obtained from large herds of sheep and goats that are around 150-200 per family.
If a cow or bull is slaughtered, the hide serves many purposes: it can be made into mattresses and mats, sandals, slings, clothes and weapon sheaths. Leather is kept supple by rubbing in goat fat.
Social and ritual uses of cattle among the Maasai
Given the many uses of cattle, cattle also hold great importance in ritual and ceremony. Cattle are a major sign of wealth, and are exchanged between a groom and his bride’s family as a symbol of their bond (bride wealth). Essentially, their social use is to create or strengthen ties and loyalties.
They are also used as payment for fines to re-establish social harmony including cases of murder.
They are offered as sacrifices on the most important ritual and ceremonial occasions. These ceremonies include births, deaths, and all the rites of passage. Depending on the occasion, the sex and colour of the cattle is ritually significant.
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