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Maasai mythology

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Title: Maasai mythology  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
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Subject: Sociology of religion, Maasai mythology, Olapa, Serengeti, African philosophy
Collection: Maasai Mythology
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Maasai mythology

The Maasai mythology involves several beliefs of the Maasai people, an ethnic group living in Kenya and Tanzania.


  • Olapa 1
  • Neiterkob 2
  • A battle 3
  • History of 4
  • Importance of cattle 5
  • Guardian spirits 6
  • Further reading 7


Olapa is the goddess of the moon, married to Ngai.


According to some sources Neiterkob/Naiteru-kop ("that which began the earth") may also be a reference to Enkai. Neiterkob is a minor deity, known as the mediator between God and man.

A battle

These great deities fought one day, and Olapa, being a short-tempered woman, inflicted Enkai with a wound. To cover up his wound, he took to shining so bright, that no one could look straight at him and see his shame. In revenge, Enkai hit Olapa back and struck out one of her eyes. This can be seen today, when the moon is full.

History of

There are several different versions of the story of how Enkai came to be. They all have common details and ideas. The belief is that Enkai was once a human who owned all the cattle in the world. When the sky and earth split, he sent all the cattle down from the sky along a long bark rope. The Maasai people received all these cattle. When a jealous group of hunters did not receive any cattle they cut the bark from the sky. This created a gap between the heavens and earth, which stopped the flow of the cattle to the Maasai. This leaves the Maasai with the belief that cattle are a direct link to Enkai and that he intended that all cattle were for the Maasai.

Because the Maasai believe that Enkai intended all the cattle in the world for them, they place themselves at the center of the universe as the chosen people of Enkai. They believe that Ngai created three groups of people to roam the earth. The first is the Dorrobo, the hunters and gathers, to whom Enkai sent honey and wild animals. The second group is the Kikuyu, the cultivators; Enkai blessed them with seed and grain. The final group is the Maasai, to whom he gave all the cattle in the world.

Importance of cattle

Due to the origin of Maasai religion, a great deal of emphasis is placed on the symbolism of cattle. The Maasai believe that cattle possess the qualities of Enkai. The eating of meat and drinking of milk symbolize the union of man and Ngai as one. The cows used at public ceremonies, such as circumcision or marriage, are publicly slaughtered and then blessed by the elders before being eaten.

Guardian spirits

The Maasai believe that each person is sent a guardian spirit. They obtain this guardian during the birth ceremony. This guardian is sent to protect the person and ward off danger until the day the person dies. At the time of death, the guardians do one of two things with the people's spirits. If they were bad people during their time on earth, they are carried off to a desert, with no water and no cattle. If they were good people while on the earth, then they are carried off to a land with many cattle and plentiful pastures.

Further reading

  • Harold Scheub: A Dictionary of African Mythology, The Mythmaker as Storyteller Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2000, ISBN 0-19-512456-1
  • Naomi Kipury: Oral Literature of the Maasai (1983: East African Educational Publishers Ltd., PO Box 45314 Nairobi, Kenya
  • Spencer, Paul, (2003), "Providence and the cosmology of misfortune" and "Loonkidongi diviners and Prophets", in Spencer, P, Time, Space, and the Unknown: Maasai configurations of power and providence, Routledge, London (pp. 67–123).
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