Esilalei village has been a settlement since 1977 before which time the Maasai, it’s current occupants, lived a nomadic life. They still enjoy free access across the land, including across the country borders.
Nowadays, Esilalei village comprises over 500 people living in around 50 separate Bomas (traditional Maasai settlements), covering the area between Manyara lake and the mountain ranges running from the North-West to the East.
Each boma is of a particular shape, protected from wild-life by a fence made from spiky Acacia branches. Additionally, in the middle of the boma you will find another enclosed area used to protect cows at night. Goats are also kept in the boma when not out grazing.
There are an average 5 to 6 houses in each boma, depending on the number of wifes the elder has. The houses include a small cooking area and stove as well as sleeping areas. A separate warrior (Korianga) house is available in each boma to house any travelling warriors as they pass through.
The village has one chairman called the ‘mwenyekiti’ but due to the size of the Eselelei area the village has been split into four parts, each with its own mwenyekiti. These mwenyekiti’s look after and resolve any conflicts in their area; any issues that cannot be resolved locally are then referred to the main chairman for resolution.
From around the age of 15, all males train to become warriors which involves learning to fight and tending the cattle. Once circumcised around the age of 18 they will become warriors and spend the first 3 to 6 months in the bush, utilising their skills and living without water, either to wash or to drink. Their only means of survival will be a cow which they can use for blood and milk. The final step in becoming a warrior is to kill a lion to prove mental and physical strength. Once this is completed, the warrior supports and safeguards the community for 10-12 years during which time he cannot marry, his main task to tend the cattle, finding adequate grazing and water to keep them alive.
Girls are often betrothed at a young age, usually marrying between the age of 12 to 15 due to the disproportionate rate of women to men. Once married, the women play a critical role in running the boma. Their duties include maintenance, cooking, looking after the children, hurding the goats and milking the animals. The women also make Maasai jewelery to sell.
When a warrior completes his years of service and becomes an elder by marrying, he will build his own boma for his wives and possibly his elder mother to live in. He will be in charge of the day to day running of his own boma. Elders are highly respected by the rest of the Maasai community.
The Maasai of Eselelei are mainly Christians but some retain their traditionl beliefs, based on nature. The Oriteti tree is believed to hold a god to which the Maasai will pray. The volcanic area of the Oldonyo mountains is also believed to be secret, with the active volcano Oldonyo Lengai, at the far right of the eacarpment, being the home of the Mountain god.
The village has a witch-doctor for traditional healing. Witch-doctors come from a particular clan of people called the Engidong. Payment for their services is by exchange of cows, thus allowing the witch doctors to marry many wives and life in larger bomas.
Christian Maasai attend regular church services; there is one church in Eselelei village which holds a Sunday morning service that anyone can attend.
Both warriors and the women participate in traditional dancing. For this the warriors gather in a circle to chant and jump whilst the women shake their bodies and sing. Usually the warriors take turns to enter the circle and jump as high as possible. This dance is also used by the warriors to impress and show off to the young girls and is performed at celebrations as well as a pastime.
The Maasai diet is based around cows and goats with cow-milk being the staple ingredient. In the morning, Maasai drink cow-milk. Goats milk can also be drunk but needs to be boiled before consumption hence the preference for cows.
During the day they will eat porridge made of corn, flour and sheep’s fat with milk. In the evening Orgali is eaten which consists of a fried mix of maize flour and bread. Goat meat is usually eaten once a week, with various parts of the goat being consumed. The bones are boiled to make a soup (Emotori) to which medicine is added to aid digestion (Engamai), prevent malaria and maintain a general well-being.
The Maasai drink the goats blood as they believe this will clean their own blood and keep them healthy.
Other traditional medicines include:
- Ormet – For the treatment of malaria
- Ormukutan – For the treatment of worms
- Engiloriti – For bravery (warriors only)
Cows are only eaten for special occasions and celebrations; both meat and blood are consumed.
The Eselelei village is ricvh with wild-life; from within the area you can expect to see or hear many of the following: elephants, buffalo, giraffe, zebra, lions, cheetah, hyena and jackal, ostrich, wildebeast, hippos, leopards, antilopes (dik-diks, Thomson’s gazelles, Grant’s gazelles & impalas) and a variety of snakes.
The Maasai predominantly coexist peacefully with the wild-life. Snakes however, may be killed when in contact with the Maasai as many are highly poisonous and one bite can be fatal. Lions can be a threat to livestock and may be killed if they attack.