The Maasai have a strict social system based on age groups and respect for their elders. Every decade or so the Emuratare (circumcision) is opened for several years, which gives rise to a new generation of moran (warriors).
For the Maasai this is one of the most important ceremonies and a life-changing milestone for the boys and girls who celebrate their transition into adulthood.
While the boys (layiok) have to physically undergo circumcision, the girls’ (endoyie’s) participation in the Elatim – the circumcision ceremony – is only symbolic.
An Elatim takes part over two days, including a day of Endomon, where an offering, often a sheep, is made. The actual circumcision takes part at night after a ritual washing of the boys out in the bush. The moran sing and dance into the night.
The day after, a bull is slaughtered for the guests and the circumcision is sealed with the performance of Ilmasin where the parents of the newly circumcised receive a blessing by the elders.
The boys rest inside for a month but will not receive full warrior status until the previous generation of warriors have taken the Ilmaho ceremony, during which they pass their rights and duties onto the new generation of moran.
The Maasai are not the only tribe in Tanzania, and Africa as a whole, who have a strict social system and who practise circumcision.
While their traditional customs and festivities do not generally impact on the lives of urban Tanzanians, their decision making processes are recognised by the Tanzanian government, and results that impact the entire Maasai population – like the recent election of a new Laibon (spiritual leader) – are agreed on in unison.
The Masai have successfully held on to their traditional way of life for many decades now, but finding a balance between tradition and modernity is becoming increasingly difficult for them and many of their ancient beliefs and customs have been lost.
See below a video of Maasai women dancing during Elatim – celebrating their traditions the way they have done for centuries.