Maasai boys become men in an elaborate ceremony in Kenya

Many Maasai rituals symbolize a passage from a life phase to the following one. Maasai society is organized in groups divided according to age for men and women alike. Traditionally, many of these initiations concern men while women’s initiations focus on circumcision and marriage. With the rising impact of information in the 21st century Maasai society, however, many young Maasai women no longer undergo circumcision. Instead, with the help of a generation of activists campaigning against female genital mutilation and early forced marriages, traditional African communities like this one have accepted an alternative ceremony for girls.

This time, thousands of Kenyan boys were part of a rare Maasai ethnic community initiation ceremony to mark their passing into early manhood. The colorful event, in Kajiado County, in the country’s Great Rift Valley, happens just once every five to ten years for boys aged between nine and 15.

According to Reuters, after spending the previous night in dry, scrub brush forest, the boys were given a hero’s welcome with multiple rounds of singing and chanting to boost their morale as they danced thrusting sticks in the air.

Thousands of Maasai children gather for initiation into an age group. Photo: Baz Ratner/Reuters

To mark the occasion, a large bull was sacrificed and its meat was roasted and fed to thousands of attendants. Its organs were later used to offer ritual blessings.  All the boys painted their heads with ochre, a deep red pigment made from clay. Those initiates chosen to be future leaders of the age group were marked by elaborate white paint patterns on their faces and bodies 

“The ceremony is called ‘Il Mirisho’ which means people who have won…(within) five years they all will be circumcised and recognized as a moran,” said community elder Ole Sakaya Matini to ReutersTraditionally, moran are the Maasai’s warrior class made up of brave and strong young men who defend the community. The ceremony was organized by elders from the Matapato area where the boys are from.

“This is the first ceremony to give their age group a name, now they are recognized and have an identity as an age group,” said Matini, the elder. The name chosen for this group, he said, is “Ilmemiri” — meaning “people who have won”, or “people who cannot be defeated”.