Maasai or Masai society is patriarchal, meaning men rule! Major matters concerning the group are decided on by elder men who are sometimes joined by retired elders.
Most aspects of behaviour are covered by a full body of oral law. More often than not, a payment of cattle will settle matters.
For the Maasai people who live a traditional life, the end of life is an accepted fact and passes without much ceremony. The dead are left for scavengers such as spotted hyenas. Should hyenas reject a corpse the group sees this as something wrong with it and this could cause social disgrace. To avoid disgrace the corpse is sometimes covered in blood and fat from a slaughtered ox. Only highly respected chiefs are buried because the Maasai believe this is harmful to the soil. Due to the high infant mortality rate, babies are only properly recognised when they reach the age of “three moons”.
Cattle are the centre of life for the Maasai
Traditional life for the Maasai centres around cattle, which make up their main food source. A man’s wealth is in terms of cattle and children – the more children a man has, the wealthier he is and a herd of 50 cattle is a respectable herd. The unlucky man who has many children but not many cattle, or the other way around, is considered poor. The Maasai believe that God gave them all the cattle on earth and therefore rustling cattle from tribes other than their tribe is considered taking back what is theirs by right.
The men are warriors
Men in the Maasai tribe are born and raised to be warriors. Men are meant to wait until they are elders before they marry but women may marry young, leading to young women with much older husbands.
It is now common for Maasai to move away from their nomadic life. In spite of living a sophisticated urban lifestyle, many return home in western designer clothes but quickly change into a comfortable, traditional shuka.