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Maasai Celebrate a Coming of Age Amid a Pandemic

Thousands of Maasai men clad in red and purple shawls and with their heads coated in red ocher gathered for a ceremony that transforms them from Moran (warriors) to Mzee (elders). Around 15,000 men from all over Kenya and neighboring Tanzania congregated in Maparasha Hills in Kajiado County, 128 kilometers from Nairobi, to feast on an estimated 3,000 bulls and 30,000 goats and sheep. Men roasted the meat on beds of coal from acacia trees, holding staffs and swords. The ceremony occurs once every decade at the site, which is surrounded by hills and dotted with acacia trees. The arrival of coronavirus in March forced a postponement of the ceremony, which was meant to have been held earlier in the year. “My role here in this ceremony, is to come and bless my boys to graduate, to another stage of being wazees (elders), and to give them their privileges,” said Moses Lepunyo ole Purkei, a farmer, community health volunteer and elder. During the ceremony, the men were accompanied by their wives, who also wore colorful shawls and beads around their necks and sang songs praising and encouraging the incoming group of elders. There are about 1.2 million Maasai living in Kenya, according to the government statistics office.