Exploring cultural diversity and related indigenous knowledge among the Loita Maasai community: Emanyatta oo Lorikan

Contributed to the ISE Newsletter by Henri ole Saitabau1

Cultural diversity is an ethnobiological aspect enshrined within the indigenous knowledge systems. Such systems have remained impeccable in practice and have ensured preservation of culture and community distinctiveness among the Loita Maasai, factors they share in common with other indigenous community around the world. The Loita Maasai regard their culture and traditions with high esteem and respect and value their indigenous knowledge, kinship and way of life. Indigenous knowledge systems play a significant role in enhancing community values, forming a benchmark for cultural diversity and biodiversity conservation at local level. It is these systems that intertwine indigenous societies with the promotion of mutually beneficial interaction between humans and their environment.

The Loita Maasai have unique ways of interacting with their environment which create considerable possibilities for consistently transmitting their culture and indigenous knowledge systems over generations. These practices reinforce the concept that the earth itself is a living being, in need of protection from the sometimes negatively impacts that “modernization” has on human survival and the health of the environment. Indigenous people realize that the true meaning of life is living through a sacred relationship with nature. Only by respecting and nurturing their relationship with the diversity found in nature can communities promote harmony and good health to both humans and their natural environment.

Various research activities carried out among Maasai communities reveal that the Loita Maasai are more traditional in lifestyle than many other Maasai sub-tribes. Despite pressure from external influences to this relationship, Loita Maasai communities strive to maintain their practices, preserving their cultural heritage through traditional ceremonies and are, in fact, often considered aggressive in their commitment to preserve their ways of life.

Their customs are characterized by specific social organization and cyclical ceremonial patterns that begin at child birth and continue to old age, ensuring consistency and observance of their fundamental processes. Each ceremonial event has a specified time within which it must be undertaken, with distinct characteristics, target age groups and with clear leadership from within their social organization.

This paper explores one among the highly valued cultural ceremonies, the Emanyatta oo Lorikan during which the junior elders becomes members of the senior elder group and gain capacity to participate and lead customary activities in the community. This documentation will be vital information for their posterity and creates a base from which the plight of the Loita Maasai and other indigenous populations can be used to entrench their rights and dignity as valued practices, deserving of recognition and respect from civil societies and governments.

Read the full paper here.