"Without war, how shall we know the courageous from the cowardly?" (Massek 1974: 7-8). This quote comes from a story in a book of Maasai wisdom and proverbs. It is the story of an elder man taking his son to the Mountain of God to tell him the ways of the people of the Maa. He professes to his son the changes taking place in Maasai culture and their loss of prominence throughout the land. He tells him how the Maasai used to rule from the Northern Mountain of Gikuyu to the "very gates of Mombasa" (Massek 1974: 7). The father says that the warriors of today are no better then women, that without war there is no way to distinguish who the brave and courageous are among the Maasai. The father says that in these times – the present – any boy may put the sign of the courageous on his shield and go unchallenged by his age-group, and that now the Maasai no longer fight other cultures for their rights and property but are passive compared to the times of war and fighting that he used to know. Concluding his story, the father says "I say, I shall die as a Maasai, but I have no certainty for my children" (Massek 1974: 8).
The preceding story is one example of prevalent change in Maasai culture, a change in age-grade importance and relevance that has had a negative effect on the Maasai people. The warriors (Ilmoran) are a vital part of Maasai survival, performing a variety of tasks from capturing a cow to be slaughtered for ceremony to subduing a crazed rhinoceros charging the kraal (Saitoti 1980: 109). The children, warriors, and elders all have tasks that they perform as an integral part of society.
The Maasai idea of age is much different from our own; they reckon time by'ages' or periods of approximately seven and a half years (Hollis 1971: 261). The Maasai idea of age is how they distinguish people amongst their respective age grades. For example, children are not all circumcised to…