Origin of plain Nilotics

Origin of plain Nilotics

  • They fall under the pastoral group of the plain Nilotics.
  • They moved from the area West of Lake Turkana around the 17th century.
  • They existed in two groups i.e. the Kwavi and Purko Masai.
  • They occupy the area called Machakos in southern Kenya and some are found in Northern Tanzania.

Political organisation

  • They were a decentralized society with no central authority.
  • They were divided into sixteen independent clans.
  • The clans were the basis of their political organisation.
  • Each clan had its own territory, cattle brand, pasture and water supply.
  • Leadership was exercised through the age set system.
  • Age sets were linear and their names were unique and never repeated.
  • The most active age set was Moran comprised of junior warriors.
  • It was led by a military captain called Olaiguanani.
  • Once elected, the Olaiguanani was presented with a ceremonial club Oriakha to symbolize his new status.
  • He organized cattle raids and arranged the distribution of the war booty.
  • A successful raid was a sign of social success and prestige.
  • The elders in society administered the clans and maintained law and order.
  • From the mid 19th century, Laibon became the center of political power.
  • A young man became a member after circumcision performed at 18 years.
  • After initiation, the boys became junior warriors called illmuran.
  • The illmuran lived separately in manyattas where they were drilled in military techniques.
  • From junior warriors, they progressed to senior warriors and finally senior elders.

Social organisation

  • The Masai believed in a supreme creator called Enkai.
  • Enkai was the source of life and punished bad people.
  • The Laibon prayed to the Enkai on behalf of his people.
  • Senior elders helped organize society especially during difficult periods.
  • Women and children were the lowest members of the society.
  • The junior warriors (Moran) were charged with defending the homesteads.
  • They conducted raids and surveyed areas for grazing.
  • Women were also initiated every year.
  • They built temporary structures called Manyattas because they are always on the move.

Economic organisation

  • The Purko Masai were pastoralists who kept cattle, goats and sheep.
  • The Kwavi Masai were cultivators who grew crops like finger millet and sorghum.
  • They traded with other communities like the Kikuyu and exchanged their hides and skins for beans, tobacco, sugarcane and millet.
  • Women did the marketing of goods.
  • There were established markets where goods would be exchanged.
  • Iron working was carried out and they made spears, arrows and ornaments.
  • They carried out raids and hunting.
  • Practiced small scale fishing to supplement their diet.
  • Art and craft was also practiced and they made jars and bowls.