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Unesco says it will protect Maasai male rites of passage

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By MILLICENT MWOLOLO
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United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) has announced that it will protect several Maasai rites of passage.

The UN’s cultural body has declared these rites as “intangible cultural heritage in need of urgent safeguarding”.

Enkipaata, Eunoto and Olng’esherr, the three male rites of passage of the Maasai community have just been inscribed on the Urgent Safeguarding List of Intangible Heritage.

Enkipaata is the induction of boys leading to initiation, Eunoto is the shaving of the warriors – known as morans – that paves the way to adulthood, while Olng’esherr is the meat eating ceremony that marks the end of moranism and the beginning of eldership, Unesco said.

Inclusion on the list of “intangible cultural heritage in need of urgent safeguarding” attracts international support and co-operation, thereby helping communities to conserve their cultural practices and traditions.

While making the announcement, Unesco noted that the viability of the rites of passage is threatened by changes in lifestyle relating to the Maasai community’s transition from a pastoral to an agricultural economy and the decline in informal modes of transmission.

While the rites still attract relatively sizeable crowds, the practice appears to be rapidly declining due to the fast emergence of agriculture as the main source of income, reforms of the land tenure system and the impact of climate change that affects the survival of cattle.

Safeguarding these rites would entail “respect and responsibility, safeguarding of the lineage, transfer of powers from one age set to the next and the transmission of indigenous knowledge, such as in relation to livestock rearing, conflict management, legends, traditions and life skills, [which] are some of the core values embedded in those rites of passage,” said Unesco on its website.

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