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Maasai Woman

Maasai Woman

Life in a Patriarchal Society Fierld Research Among the Parakuyo Tanzania
Mintzlaff, Ulrike von

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Subtitle: Life in a Patriarchal Society Fierld Research Among the Parakuyo Tanzania
Author: Ulrike von Mintzlaff
Publisher: Trickster Verlag
München, 1988
Soft-cover, 15x21 cm, 166 pages, 32 sw-photos, 9 sketches

Publishers announcement:

At first sight, women are oppressed in marriages to older men and they behave deferentially to them in a patriarchal environment. In fact, however, they manipulate men in the game of sex and their deference is often play-acting to cover up their affaires. Von Mitzlaff does not belittle the harsh aspects of life for Parakiiyu women, but they are not mere oppressed pawns in a game they cannot influence. The book is therefore free of that particular dourness which can enter feminist perspectives, and it confers on women a dignity that is absent when they are cast in the role of mere victims of men.

From the preface:

Subject of this work Studies of the Maasai have usually focused on the male aspects of the society. Gerontocracy, the men's age-class System and rituals as well as their political and religious leadership are recurring subjects in the literature. The social, economic and ritual lives of the women are described in passing but are rarely, if ever, afforded a whole chapter to themselves.

My research, on the other hand focussed specifically on the female members of one of the Maa-speaking ethnic groups. It is from their point of view that the rest of the society is considered. The day to day life of the Parakuyo women, rich in rituals and ceremonies, will be described in detail. Women in the Maasai society are usually depicted in the literature as being totally dependent on their fathers, husbands, brothers or sons. My own observations, however, suggest that there is another aspect to the execution and distribution of power, which demands deeper analysis.

The objective of this work is to analyse - starting from my field work (1982- 1985) with the Parakuyo in Tanzania - the social relationships between women and between women and different (age) groups of men. The marital and extra-marital as well as the premarital relationships of young girls will be examined. On the one hand, this will be done from the point of view of the control exerted by men over women's lives. On the other hand, I will also show the institutionalised and other, more individual, possibilities women have of escaping this control or of questioning it. My observations allow the conclusion that women have and actively use a much larger scope of action than the social Standards would seem to grant.

From “Enkang'I Koko, the grandmother“:

Koko is the word for an older woman who already has grandchildren. Nobody uses her real name anymore. She is a widow (enkoliei) and one of the oldest women in the area.

Instead of the various plate-shaped collars (issossi), commonly worn by the women, she wears approximately fifty single-stranded necklaces of differing colours, made from beads threaded onto silver wire and in addition three pairs of simple, ring-like bead ear pendants (olkankalei). Like all women, she wears spirals made from brass and copper (ossoiyai, pl. issoiyan) on her upper and lower arms. Koko has stopped wearing the leg spirals which reach from the ankle to just below the knee (emburrukati, pl. imburrukat), but wears simple copper rings around the ankles (isekenge olkejek). She has also discarded the thin metal link chain (esaiei) in the right ear. These details indicate the fact that she is a widow.

Of the seven children born to Koko, one died. The eldest daughter, mother of adult children, is married and lives two hours walk away. Her youngest daughter is the wife of an oloiboni in the area of Lugoba, a days travel by coach away. In 1983 she came back to give birth to her third child and stayed for four months with Koko. Koko's second-eldest daughter, Kallella, lives in the adjacent enkang'. Koko lives with her four sons and three daughters-in-law in one enkang'. The two youngest sons, belonging to the warriors' age-class, are members of her household. They eat and sleep at her house irregularly as do some small granddaughters. When her husband died, Koko had five cows.

Her eldest son gave her three cows to milk. She also milks the cows of her two unmarried sons. Cows give milk for approximately one year after calving. In the time between 1982 and 1985, the number of cows she milked varied between four and thirteen depending on the time of the year and the state of health of the herd; the amount of milk varied accordingly. Koko also owns a small flock of goats and sheep. She sometimes sells butterfat or one of her chickens to get some money, for example to buy salt or matches. The two sons who live with her give her money when they sell a head of cattle or a goat and she buys maize, maize flour or rice with it. She sometimes also spends money on tea or sugar, or on transport to the nearest hospital (which she never attends as a patient, but only to accompany someone who is sick) for cloth, calabashes or to use the maize mill.

Koko keeps the keys to a wooden box, in which the money belonging to her two sons and other treasures are kept: two lengths of new, red material for the cloaks the two ilmurran wear at festive occasions, a torch, pocket knife and radio, scissors, soap (at this time a black market articie in Tanzania), olkaria and a book on Sokoine. She keeps this box at the head of her bed (eruat kiti), where she also keeps, next to each other, her calabashes for milk and cream, for fetching water and other ones for keeping sugar, dried beans or beads. Opposite her bed is the "big bed" (eruat kitok), on which her sons, guests and her granddaughters sleep. On the walls hang plaited baskets, on a wooden rack (enkitala enkima) against the wall of the house between the two beds sit pots made of aluminium and day, tin plates and plastic cups. On a second wooden rack (enkitala kejek) next to the big bed are supplies and water in various Containers. Even if Koko had enough money to buy more, her household would not be able to hold many more things - everything that is necessary is there.

Even when there are no guests, Koko does not sleep alone in her house. Na-dongala, a daughter of her daughter Kallella from the adjacent enkang', helps her in the household. When Nadongala marries and moves to enkang' to live with her husband, her younger sister takes her place. The daughters of Koko's two sons also belong to her household. The oldest girl present often takes responsibility for milking the cows and making the maize porridge.

All girls take part in tasks like fetching small amounts of fire wood and water, brushing the dung of the young animals out of the house in the moming, cleaning milk calabashes and separating the young goats and sheep from their mothers in the moming and in the evening. But at the same time they also have household duties to carry out for their mothers, such as tending animals and minding younger brothers and sisters who are not yet able to walk. They are not allowed to sleep in the same house as their father (or a man of his age-set), so when he is in the house they go to sleep in their grandmother's house, or in the house of their father's second wife, if the grandmother already has other guests.

Koko always has a lot of visitors. On the one hand, there are relatives, because the older a person gets, the more widespread their network of relatives by marriage of children and grandchildren becomes. Strangers belonging to the same clan also have the right to hospitality. On the other hand, there are Parakuyo and Wanguu from nearby, who come to ask for her advice or help in the case of illness. Koko has a good knowledge of plant remedies and is a highiy regarded midwife. […]