MASAI/ MAASAI (2,2,2,2,-,-;-,-;B5;CE) (EHRAF)  (Kenya, TANZANIA)


IndexAfricaKenya → Masai


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Though not an obvious inclusion, Ford and Beach (1951:p188) listed the Masai as “permissive”. They (p182) state also that intercourse is forbidden until puberty ceremonies. As excepted from Saitoti[1]:


“ “Are you orkirekenyi?” one of my brothers asked. I quickly replied no, and there was laughter. Orkirekeryi is a person who has transgressed sexually. For you must not have sexual intercourse with any circumcised woman before you yourself are circumcised. You must wait until you are circumcised. If you have not waited, you will be fined. Your father, mother, and the circumciser will take a cow from you as punishment”.


Jacobs (1973:p402, 404)[2] agrees that, as for boys, “female children are prohibited from engaging in sexual intercourse, and it is not until a girl completes her tribal initiation ceremony (clitoris sub-incision) ceremony that she can marry and have intercourse with her husband or his age mates”.  However, the Tanzania Parakuyo are said to believe that the breasts of a girl can only develop when a man has had sex with her (Von Mitzlaff, 1988 [1994:p80])[3].


The exception seemed to have confirmed the rule. In fact, “Two features of Maasai culture in particular were instrumental in affecting colonial opinions; the pre-menarchal sexual debut of Maasai girls, and the sexual access of a husband’s age mates to his wife or wives”[4].  Hollis (1910:p479)[5] referred to “the sexual intercourse of warriors with immature girls [ditos]”, in which the rules of consanguinity and affinity that regulate marriage are equally observed. This is also noted by Hinde and Hinde (1901:p68, 73)[6]. A warrior chooses a dito he fancies, and makes her mother a great many presents, but since it is not a marriage he gives neither cattle or goats. Equally, Johnston (1902, II:p824)[7] wrote that Masai girls aged 8 to 13 are picked out by young warriors, after which they have intercourse, “which is considered in no way to be immoral [[8]], because the girls are under age, and therefore cannot conceive”. Coast (nd)[9]:


“The Maasai have a widely held belief that semen helps a girl to develop physically. Murran are considered the epitome of healthiness, therefore their sperm is best for pre-pubescent girls. The public ceremony associated with “choosing” a murran involves the girl giving the murran milk to drink. Talle suggests, “the exchange of milk and semen, two body fluids with inherent regenerative capacity, symbolizes a complementary, although not equal, relationship” ([Talle]1994:281[[10]])”



A contemporary source similarly relates that


“[t]he entito, between approximately 10-12 years and puberty associates and lives with the ilmurran [warriors, from circumcision to well beyond marriageable age of 20-25] in their settlements. She lives a rather free life sexually, living with the warriors as sweethearts. Virginity is neither socially or culturally valued. A Maasai girl's sexual activity begins long before she is clitoridectomized; nevertheless she should not become pregnant prior to the operation. Usually girls are operated on before their first menstruation. Maasai women are then ready to marry after their clitoridectomy, but the ilmurran are debarred from access to these women who are their contemporaries. These young women are married off to men who are in the “elder” age group”[11].


Also, “[g]irls are often promised in marriage at a young age, even before their birth!”. Leakey (1930:p197-8)[12] writes that Kenyan Masai girls of brothers living in manyattas sleep “from a very early age- long before puberty- on the same beds as couples indulging in sexual intercourse; and even those girls who live in the home villages learn all about such matters at a very early age owing to the fact that they always sleep in their mother’s bed. As soon as ever the first signs of puberty are noticeable, girls may be asked by the warriors to sleep with them, and the question of whether there is complete intercourse or not rests then entirely with the girls. Moreover, the uninitiated boys, and especially those who tour the villages as candidates for initiation, expect any young girls who are not already attached to the warriors to sleep with them. In fact, we may say that for the girls sex life starts before puberty and continues (with no such period of sexual prohibition as the boys have during the novice stage) until they are initiated”. Thus, Masai coitarche seems to be early[13]. Merker ([1910:p65, n])[14] briefly states: “Boys and girls already begin to practice cohabitation at the age of eight to ten”.

Whereas Fosbrooke (1948)[15] noted that “prior to circumcision no youth may have intercourse with a circumcised woman. This is a rule most strictly adhered to”, Fox (1930:p448)[16] notes that the harsh punishment of sexual intercourse with a girl of any sort “is no longer the case, probably because the warriors are afraid of Government interference should they ill-treat the boys”. Bagge (1904:p169)[17] confirms what is suspected: “No circumcised youth is permitted to have connection with a circumcised woman, but no objection exists to his having connection with any uncircumcised girl”.

Huntingford (1953:p113)[18] noted: “A man’s sex-life begins when he has been circumcised; a girl’s when she reaches puberty”. However, “[i]nitiation is often delayed until some little time after puberty, and it is not considered in any way wrong for these boys to begin indulging sexually as soon as they like, provided that they observe certain restrictions. They may do as they like with the younger girls in the neighbouring villages, provided, of course, that they observe the law forbidding sexual relations with any member of their own sub-clan, and also provided they avoid such young girls as are attached to men in the warrior classes. That these young uninitiated lads even try to have intercourse with married women is certain, as there is a special penalty provided for women who so debase themselves” (Leakey, 1930:p187-8). Uncircumcised boys are not permitted to have sexual relationships with the opposite sex in spite of the fact that many of them reach sexual maturity well ahead of their circumcision. But uncircumcised girls of similar ages are at the disposal of warriors who associate sexually with premature girls from ten years upwards (Talle, 1983)[19]. It is believed that the semen of the warrior helps and “is in fact almost a prerequisite for the development of a girl’s breasts” (ibid.). Mann et al. (1966)[20] also state that pre-initiation intercourse was not allowed, the ceremonies being held at age 8-12 (girls) and 12-15 (boys). In the former report, the age of marriage for girls was given at 10-14, but males do not get married until age 30 (cf. Weiß, op.cit., p382).

Thus, an extreme stratification by age dominated Masai sexarche. The Masai practiced foetal and infant betrothal[21].


Another contemporary formulation in tune with the above by Tarayia (2004)[22]:


“Between the ages of eight and fourteen, or just before circumcision, the girls are allowed into the free company of the warriors (newly circumcised lads) and can engage in free sex as they wish and can accompany the warriors to the bush “holiday” where they spend “good” times and eat a restricted diet of meat and herbs. [...] female teenagers between the ages of twelve and fourteen have been circumcised as a social rite of passage. Teenagers are taught to refrain from improper sexual behavior, particularly to avoid having children out of wedlock. It is taboo for an uncircumcised female or male teenager to make children. As a matter of fact, adult girls wear deterrent anklets symbolic of preventing unwanted pregnancy. Prior to this event, it was not customary for the young girls to go to the warrior kraals and even follow them to the bush for “free love.” The girls always had remained at home tending domestic chores. However, after this treachery was exposed, it was considered safer to the community and for posterity to let the Maasai girl-child accompany the warriors to go sing, dance, and live with the warriors. This custom where young girls engage in free love with warriors has been observed ever since as a punishment and to curb lust in young, uncircumcised girls. [...] This was, however, a temporary measure and as Isimi, or the period of consorting with young warriors was, and still is, a short period of time ranging between six months to a year. Furthermore, this experience of “love” could and can only be shared between warriors and the young girls who have not necessarily reached puberty. [...]”



For an account of Maasai boy circumcision, see, based on Steen, J. B & Riddervold, E. (1993) The Masai People. Oslo: Riddervold PhotoAS. See also Lemasolai-Lekuton, J. & Viola, H. (2003) Facing the lion: Growing Up Maasai on the African Savanna. National Geographic Society [p65-74 on circumcision]

by permission of Random House, Inc.


Additional references:

·         Bergsjo (1994)[23]

·         Kenya: Boarding School Offers New Life for Masai Child Brides, Women's International Network News, Winter 2001; 27,1:64

·         Morley, D. (1991) Kenya: Maasai warriors and their sexual partners, Lancet, 3/16/91; 337(8742):667

·         Pratt, B. A. (2003) Childhood, space and children 'out of place': Versions of Maasai childhood in Monduli Juu, Tanzania. PhD Diss., BostonUniversity [p127-30[1] contain a section on children’s sexuality]

·         The Legal Process- Can It Save Girls From Fgm? “A Case Of The Three Maasai Girls In Morogoro”. A report on the enforcement of the FGM Law Legal and Human Rights Centre,(LHRC) Dar es salaam, Tanzania. Compiled by: Kaleb Lameck Gamaya Editors: Helen Kijo-Bisimba, Jodie Hierlmeier. LHRC 2004

·         Welsh, S. (October 1995)A dangerous rite of passage [female genital mutilation among the Masai in Kenya]. World Press Reviewv. 42 p39

·         Commission on Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education (1993) Social Dynamics of Adolescent Fertility in Sub-Saharan Africa, Caroline H. Bledsoe and Barney Cohen, Editors. National Academy Press: Washington,D.C., p82 []

·         Razor’s Edge - The Controversy of Female Genital Mutilation - IRIN Web Special, March 2005, p21-3 []





Janssen, D. F., Growing Up Sexually. Volume I. World Reference Atlas. 0.2 ed. 2004. Berlin: Magnus Hirschfeld Archive for Sexology

Last revised: May 2005



[1] Saitoti, T. O. (1986?) My Life as a Masaii Warrior. Random House, Inc. Also under the title The worlds of a Maasai Warrior: An Autobiography (1987). London: Deutsch, and Maasai. For a reproduction of pp. 66–76, see

[2] Jacobs, A. H. (1973) The pastoral Masai of Kenya and Tanzania, in Molnos, A. (Ed.) Cultural Source Materials for Population Planning in East Africa. University of Nairobi, Institute of African Studies. Vol. 3, p399-405

[3] Von Mitzlaff, U. (1988) Maasai Frauen. Translated as Masaai Women. Trickster: Tanzania Publishing House, 1994

[4] Coast, E. (2001) Colonial preconceptions and contemporary demographic reality: Maasai of Kenya and Tanzania. Paper presented at the IUSSP (International Union for the Scientific Study of Population), Bahia, Brazil, August 2001, p8

[5] Hollis, A. C. (1910) A Note on the Masai System of Relationship and Other Matters Connected Therewith, J Royal Anthropol Instit Great Britain & Ireland 40, Jul.-Dec.:473-82

[6] Hinde, S. L. & Hinde, H. (1901) The Last of the Masai. London: William Heinemann

[7] Op.cit.

[8] Which is contrary to Julien, P. (ca1930) Zonen van Cham. Amterdam: Scheltens & Giltay, p23-4

[9] Coast, E. ([2003]) Wasting sperm: The cultural context of condom use among the Maasai in Northern Tanzania. Paper presented at International Union for the Scientific Study of Population Workshop on Taking Stock of the Condom in the Era of HIV/AIDS, University of Botswana, 13-17 July 2003 []

[10] Talle, A. (1994) The making of female fertility: anthropological perspectives on a bodily issue, Acta Obstet Gynecol Scand 73:280-3. Comment: Acta Obstet Gynecol Scand. 1994 Apr;73(4):279

[11]Sr. Mary Vertucci, Maasai Girls’ Centre for the Education of Rural Women of the Maasai Tribe, Arusha, Tanzania. From

[12]Leakey, L. S. B. (1930) Some Notes on the Masai of Kenya Colodny, J Royal Anthropol Instit Great Britain & Ireland 60, Jan-Jun.:185-209

[13] Hollis, A. C. (1905) The Masai. Oxford: Clarendon Press, page xvi: The warriors “do not live with the married people, but is separate kraals with the immature unmarried girls with whom they are allowed to cohabit freely”. See also Fischer, H. Th. (19) Huwelijk en Huwelijksmoraal bij Vreemde Volken. Utrecht [Holland]: De Haan, p110

[14] Merker, M. (1910) The Masai: Ethnographic Monograph of an East African Semite People. Second corrected and enlarged. Berlin: Dietrich Reimer. Original in German, 1904, Die Masai

[15] Fosbrooke H. A. (1948) An Administrative Survey of the Masai Social System, Tanganyika Notes and Records 26:1-50. Also referred to by Bernardi, B. (1955) The Age-system of the Masai, Annali Lateranensi XVIII:257-318, at p282n

[16] Fox, D. S. (1930) Further notes on the Masai of Kenya Colony, J Royal Anthropol Instit Great Britain & Ireland 60:447-65

[17] Bagge, S. (1904) The circumcision ceremony among the Naivasha Masai, J Anthropol Instit Great Britain & Ireland 34, Jan-Jul:167-9

[18] Huntingford, G. W. (1953) The Southern Nilo-Hamites. London: International African Institute

[19] Talle, A. (Oct., 1983) Reproduction Control and the Role of Elders: The Case of the Massai in Kenya, in Women and Reproduction report from SAREC/SIDA seminar in Visby

[20] Mann, G. V. et al. (1966) Survey of serologic evidence for syphilis among the Masai of Tanzania, Public Health Reports 81,6:513-8

[21] Merker (1910:p58); Leakey (1930); Spencer, P. (1988) The Maasai of Matapato: A Study of Rituals of Rebellion. Bloomington, Ind.: IndianaUniversity Press

[22] Tarayia, G. N. (2004) The legal perspectives of the Maasai culture, customs, and traditions, Arizona J International & Comparative Law 21,1:183-222

[23] Bergsjo, P. (1994) African rites. Sexual initiation of Maasai girl, Acta Obstet Gynecol Scand 73,4:279