7 May 2016

Tanzania: Maasai Want Back Cultural Shrines

Photo: Survival International
(file photo)

The last week's gathering of Maasai elders, also known as Laigwanaks, in Monduli District, brought to light something that many Tanzanians would probably be afraid to talk about: Modern Religions have lost appeal and currently losing ground as well.

The Maasai elders wanted all areas that hosted traditional worship shrines to be restored back to their local communities for culture-based devotion as they claim mainstream religions have not lived up to their expectations.

The Laigwanaks represented clusters from Monduli, Longido, Arusha-Rural and Ngorongoro districts in Arusha Region as well as Kiteto, Terrat and Simanjiro districts of Manyara region.

They told this reporter that they wanted all places that their ancestors used as shrines be revived and put under their possession.

However, many of these places that are of religious value to them are already serving as farms, villages, industrial areas and even hosting other worshipping premises such as churches and mosques.

The only untouched shrine at the moment is the towering Oldonyo L'engai peak, an active volcano, the third highest after Kilimanjaro and Meru in Tanzania.

The Maasai continue to worship at L'engai, located in the remote Engaresero Village of Ngorongoro District, which strides the brine watered Lake Natron. When the Lava shoots up into the sky, it is time to offer sacrifice to the mountain because 'God,' is angry.

That is why the cone shaped land feature was named 'Oldonyo' (The Mountain), 'L'engai' (of God). The last time serious eruption took place was in 2006.

They named the locations bearing defunct shrines as those found within Emborley Murtangos plains of Simanjiro District, some sections of Monduli, the Moru Rocks within the Serengeti National Park and Sanawari within Arusha City.

When European missionaries arrived in the country, the Maasai were among the first converts in the Northern Tanganyika, many adopting the German imported Evangelical Lutheran faith which is the dominant Christendom denomination in the North.

There are about 320,000 members of Maasai communities in Tanzania. Kenya has the highest population with nearly 1 million Maasai residents.

In the past, the Monduli District of Arusha used to be the pivotal shrine for all the Maasai many traveling from as far as Northern Kajido in Kenya to Arusha to worship there.

The Maasai also want to bring back all the Maasai youth who had escaped to towns and cities searching for better life but eventually ending up being night watchmen or taking up jobs as hair dressers for women in the big cities of Arusha and Dar-es-salaam.

Even worse, their formerly highly respected spiritual leaders (Laibons) have in the later years been forgotten and sometimes even used as tourist attractions in hotels and lodges.

"It is more respectable for the Maasai Morans to graze cattle with spears in their hands rather than shamefully crouching in streets with women heads on their laps, braiding hair," delegates at the meeting observed.

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