Maasai Music and Dance

Summary

The Maasai are a Nilotic ethnic community inhabiting parts of Northern Kenya and Central Tanzania (Morner, 2006). According to their oral literature they originated in the Nile valley and migrated south in the 15th century to their present occupation of areas predominantly around major tourist attractions such as game parks and great lakes.

The Maasai can be recognized by their red garments, unique hairstyles, their eye catching beadwork, elaborate traditional ceremonies, their tall and elegant Ilmuran (traditional warriors) who carry iconic spears and shields and their unique and impressive music and dance styles.

Maasai traditional customs

  • The Maasai have managed to preserve a rich cultural heritage even in the face of colonial imperialism in the 20th century and the threat of westernization in the 21st century this is in part due to the effectiveness of their oral literature and their pride in the Maasai heritage.
  • The Maasai boast of a patriarchal society built upon an age set system (olporror) where circumcised boys are entrusted with protecting the community from wild animals and attack from neighboring communities. They practice exogenous marriage among their clans and each clan has an Oloibon who is a spiritual and political leader, the alagwanani whose secular leadership capacity is confined within the parameters of the clan, the loibonok who is a spiritual leader and physician and is consulted in case of illness for herbal remedies and in case misfortune to perform elaborate rituals and prayers to cleanse the community.

Maasai traditional beliefs

  • Some traditional beliefs in the Maasai community can be found in the symbolism demonstrated during traditional rituals such as marriage, courtship and childbirth. For instance, the act of a man giving a girl a chain and subsequently taking honey and milk to her clanswomen is considered a formal proposal (Sobania, 2003). The Maasai also believe that a boy cannot transition in to a man unless he undergoes the ritual of circumcision and becomes a moran.

Maasai music attributes

  • The Maasai do not incorporate musical instruments in to their songs, every sound is vocal and any rattling and ringing or jingling that can be heard comes from the noises mad by the rattles, bells and beads that the women and men wear around their necks and in isolated instances a large horn from the head of a cow can be blown.
  • The women sing and the men respond while standing around in a circle. Perhaps the most popular Maasai music and dance ritual is the Adumu. During the Adumu the young men jump as high as they can while other young men stand around and sing. The movement of the head and neck are important to the performance as these movements create a uniform inimitable sort of bobbing as they sing.
  • The songs sang during the Adumu predominantly celebrate the coming of rain and the community‚Äôs rites of passage such as the birth, circumcision and marriage while the dance can sometimes be done to impress young girls.
  • The interaction of the dance, song and the sounds of beads, bells and rattles create a beautiful, effortless hypnotizing melody that remains effortless in its inception but still manages to overpower the listener.

Examples of Maasai musical performances.

This video shows Maasai morans during the Adumu song and dance, as stated earlier some of the young men jump as high as they can while the others stand around them in a circle and sing in Maa, the language of the Maasai and accompanying this performance is the sound of rattles and bells from their adornments.

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