Kenya – Maasai: The “drinking of milk” ceremony

One of the characteristics in the life of Maasai, is the Eunoto ceremony, drinking milk and coming of age. We look at the event.

At the ceremony of drinking milk first beer is brawn in a calabash which is not broken and the mother of the warrior who will go through the ceremony of drinking milk will store some milk.

And when the beer is being brewed, warriors will come to the settlement, and two elders of the godfather-group will be called to give the warrior his milk.

In the early evening when the herding is done, both the two elders and the warriors come, and the warriors are given milk to drink with the twig of a wild olive tree.

When this is done, a little of this sweet milk in given in a small gourd. Then it is poured into a small calabash with curdled milk which is given to the warrior. Also a little water is poured into it and shaken together so that it will all mix. These two elders of the godfather group are brothers of the mother of the warrior who will drink milk.

The warriors give the milk to the elders to bless and the warrior himself sits right inside the main bed, dressed in a black cloth, whilst his mother stands near the bed. One elder is dressed in a cloak and he holds the milk for the warrior. Of the circumcision-group Olotuno and the other Office-bearers are first given milk to drink and then all members will get milk to drink.

The elder stands holding the milk out to the warrior, but at first the warrior refuses the milk, until the people of his family will give him cattle. And once the warrior knows that the people of his whole family will give him cattle, including his father and mother and the warriors who stay with him, he will drink the milk.

He sucks the milk four times whilst the elder holds it out to him, after which the elder gives it to him to hold himself and to drink till satisfaction. Whatever is left over is given to the children next morning.

The warriors then sing and dance, whilst the elders are given honey-beer. And when it is time to go to sleep, the other warriors will go outside and leave him who drank milk so that he can to sleep in his mother’s house in between the two elders of the godfather-group.

The morning after the warrior has done the ceremony of the milk. When the early red dawn spreads around the mother of the warrior gets up and she raises a bull which has not yet managed to catch a cow, a so called “small bull”, she also takes up some dung but allows the first amount to slip through her fingers, but holds on to the rest. She has a small gourd in which she produces urine of a small ox and a goat. This she takes to the house to keep it and then goes to milk the cattle.

The evening before the two elders did bring a stick of an aromatic bush like a lime tree pulled out by the roots, and they stripped off the leaves leaving a few near the top, and these they stuck into the gatepost on the left as one enters the settlement.

And now they come out and remove this stick and give it to the warrior who is to be an elder in the kraal and they place this together for the warrior with the white stick of an entopisianoi-tree, so that there are two now.

Whilst the cattle are in the kraal and the gate is still closed with some thorn-branches, the elders and the warrior enter the cattle pen, holding a small stool on which is powdered white chalk.

They hold the top of a calabash with sweet milk in it, they also put the urine of the young bull and the goat on the stool, as also the dung of a bull, and all these are to be thoroughly mixed together. The warrior’s face is then anointed covering both his cheeks. His right shin is also anointed in blessing. The words are: “Be favoured in cattle and people; this is the blessing of the face. Then they say to him: May children put bracelets on you, boys as well as girls; this at the blessing of the foot.”

And his sticks are anointed with the words: Be matched the sticks of the boys and of girls. At this everything is mixed together: white chalk, milk, urine, dung, brawn beer. And this is called “olkupelia“, the big blessing by which he becomes an elder ever after.

And when “olkupelia” has been performed, the cattle go out of the settlement, and he too goes out amongst the cattle, and he beats with a special stick three calves, beginning with a bull, and consequently beating the other cattle.

And when the cattle have been hit, he sees them off for a while before returning into the settlement, where he is shaved again; next morning he goes out with the cattle for four days. And with this the ceremony of ‘drinking milk’ is over.

(Frans Mol)

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