Orkiteng Larbaa: Remote Engaruka Maasai village ritual and ceremony.
In July 2021 our team was lucky to witness a very special and rare event that happened in a remote Maasai settlement about 20km away from Engaruka village.
This ceremony is an age transition event when a junior elder member of the tribe (who is also a chief of the village) is blessed by the community to become a senior elder. Among Maasai this ceremony is called ‘Orkiteng Larbaa’, which literally means ‘the bull has become an old man’. This is the fourth ceremonial feast for a Maasai man to undergo and the last one in life to perform. The other ceremonial feast are: birthday, initiation, becoming a junior elder, and finally becoming a senior elder.
This is a very rare event, maybe even rarer than we can imagine, because not all the Maasai men undergo this age transition. It only happens with the most respected and highly valued members of the community. That is why until we came to the ceremony and saw what was happening we could not predict which kind of rituals we would see.
The ceremony itself takes 3 days from the beginning to end. However, the second day (which we attended) was the most important one because of the cattle slaughterings and a special blessing ritual with incredibly intense songs and dances.
Maasai are incredibly warm and hospitable people. We got to know about the ceremony two months before the date. When our contact in the area told us about the ceremony, without giving it a second thought, we asked him to help us get access to attend this special event and we started to communicate with the chief of the village to get his permission. After introducing ourselves and having a series of talks with the chiefs, we were invited to the ceremony. Upon arrival, we were warmly greeted and welcomed. We shook hands with the ceremony host and took a group picture together. We felt truly honored to witness such an important cultural event. All the time we spent in the ceremony we felt warmly accepted. It felt like the barriers between those people and us were erased and we felt part of what was going on. We were treated to delicious roasted meat and a soda drink (local people love soda!)
All what was going on during the event was mind-blowing. When you witness the local life in this way, without any acting from people’s side (because some tribes, particularly those along the tourist commercial routes lose their authenticity because most of them have to perform for a tourist in order to earn some money), it really changes the whole perception of the world and it gives you a lot of insights into your life and the life that you got used to. It is a powerful, invaluable, and unforgettable experience.
We did, though, experience some mixed attitudes towards our cameras. Some people here don’t like to be photographed. By default we were allowed to take images, it was prearranged, so people knew we would come with a camera. But some women felt uncomfortable, especially when we tried to record the women dancing part of the ceremony. We are well aware of camera etiquette and we know that it can be quite a sensitive issue for indigenous people and we always respect and listen to what they say. It is all about respect when it comes to this.
It seems that the term “developed world” is a misconception, that western culture is always comparing other cultures and judging their ways of life with an ethnocentric gaze that has as its maximum value an idea of what progress is. I can certainly say that no matter where you go in Tanzania and no matter which tribe you visit, there is always a sense of unity. Every tribe is just like one body, united. It is incredible. Probably this is the answer to why their cultural identity is so solid and strong and carried through generations. They stay true to who they are. We should learn from that in our globalized world where the sense of empathy with our community members is lost. Another thing is ‘human’ communication and ‘human’ connection that these people managed to preserve, unlike us, where human interactions are losing their value in the world of digital devices. When you’re among locals, time dissolves and you start living in the present moment only, and this is one of the most incredible things to experience during interactions with the indigenous people of Tanzania.
Such experiences as we had during our visit to the Maasai ceremony, are invaluable for understanding who we are as people and as a community. We are convinced that approaching these cultural differences with an open mind and heart can teach us to be more conscious and respectful towards each other and other cultures as well as a valuable lesson about how humans can live in harmony with nature, producing what they need for living without destroying the habitat that provides the resources. Staying curious, staying non-judgemental and accepting other people’s ways of life is the key to maintaining a healthy and peaceful environment in our world. More than anything else we are standing for intercultural connections that transcend the barriers, this should be the cornerstone of modern society. To be able to show you the indigenous cultures in their authentic and intimate environment is a contribution to the idea of transcending cultural barriers by always maintaining each group's cultural identity and preventing the globalized world from taking away the minorities’ cultural heritage. Our goal is to keep the cultural diversity of the region and to make western people more aware, more respectful and therefore more open to the incredible cultural richness of the African continent.
Photo by The Image of Africa