From Spiritual Leader To English Milk Maid: Colonialism And Maasai Women

550 words - 3 pages

From Spiritual Leader to English Milk Maid: Colonialism and Maasai Women

Before Western imposition of the nation "state," Maasai men and women maintained overlapping positions of power and social prestige among varying age groups. For centuries, "there was no clear, gendered distinction between the "domestic" and the "public/political" domains, or among social, economic and political activities" (36). Yet with the new colonial "parameters of male Maasai power" beget from Western social systems, the Maasai embraced "new modes of control and authority, becoming something that might be called "patriarchal" "(16). In this new pastoralist system, ethnic variances were disregarded, capitalistic profit drove foreign-native relations and Maasai women lost the place of honor and authority within Maasai conceptions of being Maasai.

Prior to colonial contact, married women were ...view middle of the document...

Moreover, women were able to lobby judicial proceedings and mediate relationships between Maasai and God, thus expressing "moral authority" and power (33).

However, beginning in 1890, Western colonialism reshaped the Maasai's perception of who they should be. Though the German colonialism was "uneven" and "limited," it weakened the Maasai through disease, and established the practice of "state rule" (37). Conforming the Maasai "to colonial, and then national, agendas of progress", the "assertion and expansion of state power" reordered Maasai lives and livelihoods to suit Western needs (275). Subsequent British rule in the 1900s "expanded" on state authority with tribal relocations and new heads of households, enforcing "neat alignments of ethnic identity with territorial identity" on a mobile and nomadic people. Frustrated Westerners created a "political hierarchy of Africans" to ruled through co-optation (61) and instituted colonial taxes upon the men, disrupting cattle ownership among men and women (69).

Even in the 1960s, continuing "a potentially lucrative source of state revenue", foreign organizations spent millions of dollars on the development of Maasai "productivity", yet the programs held no cultural sensitivity and flopped. MLDRMP sought to develop livestock "for the benefit of the state, rather than for the benefit of the people themselves" (Hodgson 208, 203). As a result of new social stratification by Western terms of Maasai identity, women "lost both prestige and power" within social relationships, as "traditionally female-centered products such as milk become commodities" and men appropriate "the product and the profit" of their labors (240).

Yet today in Independent Tanzania and Kenya, Maasai men usurp "women's roles as traders" and "instead of women bartering livestock products, men [sell] livestock to meet their growing cash needs" (91). Yet through clever means of independence, like orpeko, women compete with men for the right to define what it is to be Maasai: only time will reveal the Maasai identity of the future.

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