Wednesday, July 27, 2011

"The Masai: Introduction" and "A Glimpse of Gender, Sexuality, and Spirituality in the Loita Masai" Are Both Now Up and Working

Unfortunately my two most recent blog posts on the Masai blacked out over at Mother Nature Obeyed shortly after posting the second one.  But they are now up and running!  Theoretically, the site error is permanently fixed.


The Masai Part I: A Glimpse of Gender, Sexuality, and Spirituality in the Loita Masai (part 1)


  1. Good stuff, Chris.

    I agree that "magician" would seem to be the wrong word. I don't know about "unfair" -- simply incorrect:

    "At the end of The Women’s Olamal, a young woman named Kisaru explains that regardless of how perfectly you perform the ritual, no woman will ever have a child unless God grants her one."

    If a ritual or an object is not imagined to be efficacious in itself, then the conception isn't magical.

    And, yes, we should be on our guard not to be misled by the word "wealth" (or whatever word it's been used to translate). Assuming it has the same very narrow literal meaning that the English word "wealth" connotes to us would be naive.

    Then there's the man "buying" his wife from her father. I'd think this in part likely indemnifies the father's household for the loss of her labour. Additionally, there's the question of what happens if the husband mistreats the wife. In some societies that would lead to her returning to her father's house but would NOT lead to her father's sending the cattle back. That is said to act as a restraint on husbands.

    Something much more complicated than a commercial transaction is undoubtedly going on. Possibly strong feminist beliefs could prevent an anthropologist from a society such as ours from realising that -- because she's expecting to see "men behaving badly" (not that they don't often, just that not everything can be interpreted in that way). Or perhaps it's like misunderstanding what is meant by "wealth" -- just a matter of jumping to conclusions.

  2. Hi Mike,

    Great points, thanks. I agree with "incorrect," but the reason I said "unfair" is because I think that many people resort to the word "magic" because they want to characterize the society as more primitive than their own, which in turn means it is more superstitious than their own. I think many people do this unthinkingly with the force of habit. I think LLewelyn-Davies recognized that magician isn't very correct and I think that is why she used "prophet" overwhelmingly, and "diviner" more often than "magician."

    I think in this case the definition of "wealth" is reflecting on the values of the society. Since the goal of Masai society is to have large families and many descendants, things that facilitate this are called "wealth." Since the goal of our society is to maximize our own consumption, things that facilitate this are called "wealth." Llewelyn-Davies was analyzing this backwards in my opinion.

    That said, she later abandoned the idea that women not owning cattle was a major problem in Masai society in favor of the idea that government eroding their land rights was the major problem facing them. This is only part 1 of part 1, so I'll go into this further.

    Merker (1910) reported that if the woman leaves because she is treated poorly then there is a system for determining whether divorce is justified that lasts five months. In the result of a divorce, whether the bridal wealth is paid back depends on whether there are children and how the custody of the children are worked out.

    That said, according to Merker (1910), the father actually has to pay the bridal wealth back every time he marries off a daughter! This is to assure he never receives bridal wealth twice.

    Also, if the woman proves barren, the husband gives EXTRA cattle for the bridal wealth as a symbol of his commitment to both his wife and to his in-laws despite any disappointment with her barrenness.

    In any case, gifts of cattle are used for all formal initations of friendships and commitments. This is so important that Merker reported by far the most common terms of address that one person had for another during adulthood were based on the animals given. They had a very extensive list of terms of address that are all based on the first animal-gift that someone had given you. This is so common that the only people using other terms of address, for the most part, are children who haven't gotten any cattle gifts yet.

    Thus, giving cattle is the seal of commitment to a relationship, not a commercial transaction the way we think of it.


  3. Incidentally, Llewelyn-Davies suggestion that women are "passively traded" between owners conflicts with at least Merker's description in 1910 that marriage couldn't happen without the girl's consent. He descried a rather complex process whereby both parties and their parents all had to consent. He also described specific alternative traditions whereby they could "elope" in the forest without their parents consent and emerge recognized as married.



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