Editors help sharpen a writer’s stories, words, and ideas. I always know that my book is better as a result of responding to my editor’s feedback. There are so many invisible steps involved in taking a book from manuscript stage to the printed, finished copy that you buy at the store or borrow from your library. The editorial process is one of those crucial stages. Have a look here at some of the suggestions and corrections my editor gave this chapter.
The Maasai are a semi-nomadic ethnic group who are known for their unique culture and adherence to a traditional lifestyle. They live in southern Kenya and northern Tanzania, with a total population of over 1.2 million (about 800,000 live in Kenya and 400,000 in Tanzania).
The Maasai are considered semi-nomadic because they must frequently move their cattle to new areas to graze. Traditionally, the Maasai relied solely on their cattle to survive. All of their food came from cows, as they ate their raw flesh, drank their milk, and drank their blood in special ceremonies. Cows were, and are still, a measurement of wealth. A man who owns fewer than 50 cows is considered poor, and successful men own may own 1000 cattle or more.
Cows are still important to Maasai culture, but they can no longer be their only source of food and resources. This is due to the advent of British colonization, which began in the 1840s in this region. The British brought new diseases, which killed a great deal of livestock; they also claimed much of the Maasai land as their own, meaning the cows did not have enough land to graze upon. As a result, the Maasai have had to grow crops to eat and buy food from other sources. They also participate in the economy by selling livestock to non-Maasai people. Both of these new practices are frowned upon in Maasai culture, but they must be done in order to survive.
The social structure of Maasai life is very organized and rigid. Boys begin their lives as cow herders; after puberty, they are trained as warriors. The main role of a warrior is to protect the community’s livestock. After a man has fulfilled his duty as a warrior, he may become a junior elder, meaning he can move out of his father’s house and be the head of his own family. Later still, a man may become a senior elder. In this role, the man becomes a leader in his community. He acts as a mediator in disputes and leads various ceremonies celebrating puberty, marriage, and other important events.
A girl’s life in Maasai culture is quite different. Girls are taught to do household chores when they are young. Following puberty, they may become wives, where they cook, clean, take care of children, and construct the temporary houses their family will live in. A man will often have more than one wife. After a woman has had at least four children, she may too become a senior elder.
The Maasai are well known for their distinctive style of dress. All Maasai men and women keep their hair very short, with the exception of warriors, who wear their hair in long braids. Maasai people traditionally stretched their earlobes and pierced their ears, though this is becoming less common, particularly among boys and men. Maasai women are well known for their beadwork, which is incorporated into their clothing and jewelry. Maasai clothing is made up of several sheets draped over the body, and the styles for women are very similar to the styles for men. The most popular color of cloth is red, though many other colors and patterns are worn.
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It was personal tragedy that first brought me to Kenya. My wife’s brother died of cancer in 2006. To honor his Uncle Peter, our son, Nick, raised over $20,000, which he donated to a wonderful organization called Free the Children. In the summer of 2007, we went to Kenya with Free the Children to help build the school that would be dedicated to Peter’s memory.
My wife and I fell in love with the country and the people. The Maasai—the dominant group in the region where the school was built—are people of few words but great pride. They are “traditionalists” who are very tied to their culture, history, and way of life. It’s this traditional way of life that makes them either greatly admired by other Kenyans or seen as being “primitives,” an incredibly negative term. However, this negative term would seldom—if ever—be voiced directly to them. I was told very clearly that along with their great pride was a “short tempter” and that they always carried weapons.
The impressions and stories that Muchoki has about the Maasai are those I’ve been told about this group, most often by the Maasai themselves. They are traders, merchants and very astute business people. In my last two visits to Kenya, I became friends with one of the sons of the local chief. He was dressed traditionally, told me myths and stories of his people, and had on his belt a number of weapons. He also had a smart phone clipped don’t his belt and talked about his two-year degree in Information Technology. We exchanged email addresses and he asked me to “like” him on Facebook.