Wednesday, 28 December 2011

... Tanzania: You've Got What Pierced?

Today was an early start to the day as once breakfast was out of the way I was off to visit a Maasai family, one of the most colourful tribes found in Northern Tanzania and who have somehow managed to hold onto a centuries old lifestyle. They are pastoral nomads whose culture centres around their cattle for it is that which provides many of their needs. It is also a society that is patriarchal and highly decentralized and so it was very interesting to therefore go to a household where the head of the house was a widowed female as women usually play a markedly subservient role and have no inheritance rights. Whilst polygamy is widespread remarriage amongst widows is rare.

The family met us as we arrived and were dressed in traditional gear. They began a traditional song & dance before welcoming us into their home. Maasai music traditionally consists of rhythms provided by the group singing harmonies whilst a song leader, or olaranyani, sings the melody. The males then began the jumping dance and invited the males of our group to individually take part even dressing them in a traditional Shúkà, the sheets worn wrapped around the body . When it came to us females we were given one or two of the large beaded necklaces, I was given two (a smaller one sits on top of the larger one) and they packed quite the weight! We then stood in a line and had to kind of rock back & forth with a bit of a bounce to make these necklaces bounce. It was a lot harder than it looks but lots of fun!

The piercing and stretching of earlobes is common and was seen in virtually everyone in this family bar the really young ones. Various materials are used to both pierce and stretch the lobes, including thorns for piercing, twigs, bundles of twigs, stones, bits of elephant tusks etc. The women were wearing various forms of beaded ornaments in both the ears. That was when I decided to show off my piercings. They seemed absolutely fascinated by the various barbells & labrets filling my ear space. The nose stud got a little more of a response but then I opened my mouth and stuck out my tongue..... I am now a legend amongst the Maasai, for freakier piercings than them. They had never seen anyone with a tongue piercing before and their reaction was priceless... A mixture of horror, amazement and admiration.

We were then invited into one of the circular Inkajijik (houses) that are constructed by able-bodied women. Inside is larger than it looks from the outside but it still seems pretty crowded as well as dark aside from anywhere the sunlight can get in. The structural framework was timber poles fixed directly into the ground and interwoven with a lattice of smaller branches, which was then plastered with a mix of mud, sticks, grass, cow dung and human urine, and ash. The cow dung ensures that the roof is water-proof. I had a go at weaving a lattice but oddly enough turned down the opportunity to smear cow dung against the wall opting to watch instead. It was as gross as it sounds, trust me. Still at least we didn't have to watch the rite of passage from boyhood to the status of junior warrior via a painful circumcision ceremony, which is performed without anesthetic! A procedure the boy must endure in silence to show how strong & mighty he is.

Aside from coming away with a very nice beaded bracelet (for next to nothing) I came away with a real feel for this incredibly interesting lifestyle. It was a truly fascinating experience and all this before lunch & our drive to the Serengeti.

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