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Politics of food in Maa community

A unwritten customary law that saw men being given priority on the table led to women and children savouring the less juicy parts of slaughtered animals

Miriam Semeyian@PeopleDailyKE

Every community has its peculiar traditions that border on the absurd when it comes to food and in the past, this was used to further entrench the norm that men were more superior than women and children.

In the Maa community, it was a customary law that men were to be served first and the pecking order was so particular that a child would rather miss a meal than the man of the house.

When it came to serving meat, one of the most coveted delicacy in the Maa community, men were given priority.

Up to date there are those who hold this customary laws in the community dear. Kitaana Enole Kisino, a 70-year-old woman from Kilgoris in Narok county, believes the practise made them different from the rest.

“A man is the head of the family and serving him first was one of the ways to show him respect. I really wish this tradition could be carried forward because culture is important and it made us different from others,” she says.

She, however, agrees that the cultural practice is fading away, blaming it on western influences. “Children grow up seeing how the ‘white man culture’ is running families and they also do what they have seen and that’s why the culture is fading away,” she laments. To a traditional Maasai woman, she says respect to the husband was paramount.

Meat. Photo/File

Many are, however, letting go of this cultural practices.

“I am glad it has ended because at least now there is equality. Everybody gets to eat a piece  of the slaughtered animal. At the same time, I am sad.

Earlier there was order when a cow or goat was slaughtered because everybody knew which meat belongs to a certain group of people,” Lekishon Ikaare, a resident of Itong’ says.

Others believe that such practises belong to the past. “Why should I go the old days way yet the world is evolving everyday?’’ says Tim Sanare, a radio presenter at Mayian FM.

The politics of food in the Maa community were deeply-rooted and mainly favoured men.

Whenever an animal was slaughtered in this case a cow, there were parts that were specially meant for men and a woman couldn’t even imagine tasting them. For instance, lungs, ribs and the round steak were solely for men. Women on the other hand were only meant to partake  tripe popularly known as matumbo, liver and the back area.

The slaughtering of an animal too wasn’t done haphazardly;  a number of things were to be considered. Before the slaughtering, which was exclusively done by men, a location would be chosen far from the homestead. The place, which is known in Maasai as Orpul, was no ground for women. Several reasons were given varying from one sub-tribe to the other in the Maa community.

Amongst the Ilchamus, it was believed a single glance from a woman during the undertaking would bring with it strings of misfortunes to the community. To avoid such, men would gather around the orpul, ensuring no woman could get a glance, not even by mistake. If by any chance it happened that a woman caught a glimpse of the activity, the whole animal would be left for women to eat.

Sociologist Gidraph Wairire, however, observes that times have changed and many of these perceptions about women are fast diminishing. “Time and how women are getting empowered every day is changing the norms and due to this, they have gotten an idea that they are not different from men,” Wairire says.

“In the Maasai cultural practices, women are considered equal to children, while the man is the sole provider and head of the house. Women, therefore, felt obliged to give  men priority,” he adds. He says education is playing a major role in culture change.

“If a student comes from a background, which practised some traditional values, they will adapt to how things are done in school and end up practising it at home,”  he says.

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