Many years ago, my parents visited a Masai village in Kenya. Many of the Masai are environmentalists, and know that maintaining assorted wildlife, including a variety of plants in their region, is good for the planet.
Simultaneously their orientation supports the tourism industry. It’s because regions in their country rich in biological diversity attract visitors from other countries.
However, there are sometimes horrific repercussions from not killing off all of the animals that pose threats. Accordingly the village was experiencing the aftermath from such a disaster the day that my parents arrived. It went like this:
The day before my parents’ visit, the village’s older children were walking to school — around a five mile trek along a dirt trail in the savanna. As usual, they walked in single file with the oldest child in front of the line to look out for dangers and the second oldest at the line’s back.
Suddenly a huge male lion leaped out from his hiding place behind a bush or grass adjacent to the children. Then he ran straight through the middle of the line while simultaneously snatching a six year old boy in his jaws.
Of course, the children were all quite distressed and went back to the village instead of onward to school. Admirably, they maintained their single file discipline while doing so. After all, the littlest children would have been left behind were everyone to start running due to panic.
Once the plight of the snatched boy was explained, grim faced men from the village left to find the lion, quickly killed him and slit his belly to find the remains of the boy.
These were carefully put in a box to give to the boy’s parents, along with some small part of the lion as a sign that the assailant had been vanquished. What happened to the rest of the lion’s body, I do not know.
Maybe it was left for the vultures and other animals to consume. Maybe the tribe ate it and used the skin for a bed covering or in ceremonial functions. I simply don’t know enough of this tribe’s culture to even guess.
Meanwhile, my father was hanging out with the Masai men after simply walking around the village. Tall like them and from Scottish decent, he was as curious about them as they were about him. So they touched each others’ hair since my father’s was wispy and fine. Simultaneously theirs was coarse and full of mud to ward off bugs and other vermin from attacking their scalps.
Then they did other mutual inspections, such as watching each other leap, talk in their own languages to hear the sounds made, etc. What fun!
They also communicated back and forth with a translator and, finally, it was concluded that my father was a long-lost Masai brother. So he needed to be inducted into their tribe and recorded in writing as a member.
On account the men led him off into a hut to meet their spiritual leader. There they had a secret ritual service about his inclusion into their community.
At the same time, my mother was sitting with the women, who were making bead jewelry. She sat watching … until one piece, which a woman with a small child at her side was finishing, caught her eye.
The necklace was unbelievably gorgeous to my mother so that she wished to have it. So she held out Kenyan money to the beader and pointed to the necklace.
The woman understood my mother’s gesture. She waved her hand against the money and simply gave my mother the necklace.
So then my mother made further motions to indicate that the woman’s child was lovely and she wanted to give a gift of the money for the child. Then my mother’s money was accepted. … How clever of my mother to figure out a way to reciprocate that would be acceptable to the jewelry maker!
The necklace is gorgeous. It is so much so that my mother wore it nearly every day of her life until she died. It needed no jewels, nor precious metals as a part of its makeup to be one of the finest pieces of jewelry that a human mind could conceive and, then, make.
I’m donating it soon to Six Nations Indian Museum. It belongs there as a piece of beauty representing something amazing that humans can achieve when they strive to bring out the finest capabilities in themselves rather than do warring or undertake other rapacious and violent behaviors.
It’s also a testimonial that life can continue in good ways after tragedy strikes, such as when a child dies from being consumed by a wildcat. It shows that life can still have positive aspects and a deliberate thrust towards resumption of normalcy.
My father’s induction rite was always supposed to be secret. So he, an honorable person, didn’t even tell my curious mother about any of it. He simply told her that she was now a wife of a Masai.
I’m now, too, a Masai, as his daughter. So oddly I now have family in Kenya!
In my mind, they don’t, except superficially, seem that different from me. They try to live in the natural world in a positive way despite repercussions, such as happened with the lion.
Most of all, they seem to enjoy the variance that we all across the world pose. They don’t tear the natural world or other peoples apart for greed, personal financial gain, power, nor control.
With a sense of inclusion and mutuality, such as the Masai and my parents together enjoyed, we can extend tenderness and vitally needed support, too. We can all become a Masai as I have become through my father’s membership in the tribe.
The opposite and heinous inclination is starkly revealed in this poem by Martin Niemöller. It shows anomie and disconnection from others with starkly tragic results.
First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out–
because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out–
because I was not a socialist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out–
because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out–
because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me–
and there was no one left to speak out for me.
Sally Dugman is a writer in Massachusetts, USA.